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A. P. Lange 





By Gustave Le Bon 

Author of "The 

Crowd " 



[All rights reserved.] 






How the naturalists classify species Application of their 
methods to man Defective side of the classifications of the 
human races at present in vogue Foundations of a psycho- 
logical description The average types of the races How they 
may be established by observation The psychological factors 
which determine the average type of a race The influence of 
ancestors and that of the immediate parents Common psycho- 
logical groundwork possessed by all the individuals of a race 
Immense influence of bygone generations on the present 
generation Mathematical reasons for this influence How 
the collective soul has spread from the family to the village, 
from the city to the surrounding district Advantages and 
dangers of the conception of the city Circumstances under 
which the formation of the collective soul is impossible 
Example of Italy How the natural races have given way to 
the historic races. 



The variability of the character of races, and not its fixity, 
constitutes the apparent rule Reasons for this appearance 
Invariability of the fundamental characteristics and variability 



of the secondary characteristics Analogies between the 
psychological characteristics and the irreducible and modifiable 
characteristics of the animal species It is only environment, 
circumstances, and education that influence the accessory 
psychological characteristics The possibilities of character 
Examples furnished by the different periods The men of the 
Terror What they became at different periods How 
national characteristics endure in spite of revolutions Various 
examples Conclusion. 


Psychological classification is based, as are anatomical assi- 
fications, on the determination of a small number of irreducible 
and fundamental characteristics Psychological classification 
of the human races The primitive races The inferior races 
The average races The superior races The psychological 
elements the grouping of which allows of this classification 
The elements which are of the most importance Character 
Morality The intellectual qualities are modifiable by educa- 
tion The qualities appertaining to character are irreducible 
and constitute the unvarying element in each people Their 
role in history Why it is impossible for different races to 
understand and influence one another The reasons why it is 
impossible for an inferior people to adopt a superior civilisation. 



The inequality between the different individuals of a race is 
greater in proportion to the superiority of the race Mental 
equality of all the individuals of inferior races To appreciate 
the differences that separate races, the superior individuals of 
each people and not its average representatives must be com- 
pared The progress of civilisation tends towards a greater 
and greater differentiation of individuals and races Conse- 
quences of this differentiation The psychological reasons 
which prevent its becoming too considerable The individuals 
of the superior races are highly differentiated as regards their 
intelligence, and very slightly so as regards their character 
How heredity constantly tends to reduce individual superiorities 
to the average type of the race Anatomical observations 
confirming the progressive psychological differentiation of 
races, individuals, and sexes. 





How historical races are formed Conditions which allow of 
different races combining to form a single race Influence 
of the number of the individuals involved in the process, of 
the dissimilarity of their characters, of the environments, etc. 
Results of cross-breeding Causes of the great inferiority of 
half-breeds Mobility of the new psychological characteristics 
created by cross-breeding How these characteristics come to 
be fixed The critical periods of history Cross-breeding 
constitutes an essential factor in the formation of new races, 
and at the same time a powerful factor in the dissolution of 
civilisations Importance of the regime of castes Influence 
of environment Environment can only exert its influence on 
new races in process of formation, and on races whose 
ancestral characteristics are giving way before the action of 
cross-breeding Environment is without influence on old 
races Various examples The majority of the historical races 
of Europe are still in process of formation Political and 
social consequences Why the period of formation of his- 
torical races will soon be over. 





The elements of which a civilisation is composed are the 
exterior manifestations of the soul of the peoples which have 
created them The importance of these various elements 
varies with the different peoples According to the several 
peoples it is the arts, literature, institutions, etc., that fill the 
fundamental role Examples from antiquity : the Egyptians, 
Greeks, and Romans The evolution of the different elements 
of a civilisation may be independent of the general march of 
that civilisation Examples supplied by the arts What they 



express Impossibility of finding in a single element of a 
civilisation the measure of the level of that civilisation 
Elements which assure the superiority of a people Elements 
which philosophically are very inferior may be socially very 



ARE TRANSFORMED . . . . .81-99 

The superior races are as powerless as the inferior races to 
transform suddenly the elements of their civilisation Contra- 
dictions presented by the peoples which have changed their 
religions, languages, and arts The example of Japan In 
what respect these changes are only apparent The profound 
transformations undergone by Buddhism, Brahmanism, Ma- 
hometanism and Christianity according to the various races 
by which they have been adopted The variations undergone 
by institutions and languages according to the race that adopts 
them That the words which in different languages are con- 
sidered to correspond represent very dissimilar ideas and 
modes of thought Impossibility for this reason of translating 
certain languages Why, in books of history, the civilisation 
of a people sometimes seems to have undergone profound 
changes Limits of the reciprocal influence of different 


Application of the principles already set forth to the study of 
the evolution of the arts among the Oriental peoples Egypt 
The religious ideas from which its arts are derived De- 
velopments that await its arts when they are transplanted 
amid different races : Ethiopians, Greeks, and Persians 
Primitive inferiority of Grecian art Slowness of its evolution 
Adoption and evolution in Persia of Grecian art, Egyptian art, 
and Assyrian art The transformations undergone by the arts 
depend on the race and not on religious beliefs Examples 
supplied by the great transformations undergone by Arabian 
art according to the races which have adopted Islamism 
Application of our principles to the investigation of the origin 
and evolution of the arts in India India and Greece went to 
the same sources, but in consequence of the diversity of the 
races they developed arts having no relationship Immense 
transformations undergone by architecture in India among the 
different races in spite of the similarity of their beliefs. 








The history of a people is always determined by its mental 
constitution Various examples How the political institutions 
of France are the outcome of the soul of the race Their real 
invariability beneath their apparent variability Our most 
different political parties pursue identical political ends under 
different names Their ideal is always centralisation and the 
destruction of individual initiative to the profit of the State 
How the French Revolution merely executed the programme 
of the old monarchy Contrast between the ideal of the Anglo- 
Saxon race and the Latin ideal The initiative of the citizen 
substituted for the initiative of the State Peoples' institutions 
are always the outcome of their character. 



The English character How the American soul has been 
formed Severity of the selection resulting from the conditions 
of existence Forced disappearance of the inferior elements 
The negroes and the Chinese Reasons of the prosperity of 
the United States and of the decadence of the Spanish- 
American republics in spite of identical political institutions 
Inevitable anarchy of the Spanish-American republics as a 
consequence of the inferiority of the characteristics of the race. 


PEOPLES 153-164 

The influence of foreign elements at once transforms the soul 
of a race, and in consequence its civilisation Example of the 
Romans Roman civilisation was not destroyed by military 



invasions, but by the pacific invasions of the Barbarians The 
Barbarians never formed the project of destroying the Empire 
Their invasions were not of the nature of conquests The 
early Frank chiefs always considered themselves to be 
functionaries of the Roman Empire They always respected 
Roman civilisation, and their aim was to continue it It was 
only from the seventh century onwards that the Gallic barbarian 
chiefs ceased to consider the Emperor as their superior The 
complete transformation of Roman civilisation was not the 
consequence of a work of destruction, but of the adoption of 
an ancient civilisation by a new race The modern invasions 
of the United States The civil strife and the breaking up of 
the United States into independent and rival States to which 
these invasions will lead The invasion of France by 
foreigners and their consequences. 




The leading ideas of each civilisation are always very few in 
number Extreme slowness of their birth and disappearance 
Ideas do not influence conduct until they have been trans- 
formed into sentiments They then form part of the character 
It is thanks to the slowness of the evolution of ideas that 
civilisations possess a certain fixity How ideas take root 
The reason has no influence whatever The influence of 
affirmation and prestige The role of enthusiasts and apostles 
Deformation undergone by ideas as they penetrate the 
masses A universally admitted idea soon influences all the 
elements of civilisation It is thanks to their community of 
ideas that the men of each age have a sum total of average 
conceptions which makes them very much alike in their 
thoughts and actions The yoke of custom and opinion It is 
not relaxed until the critical ages of history when the old 
ideas are losing their influence and have not as yet been 
replaced This critical age is the only age in which the dis- 
cussion of opinions can be tolerated Dogmas only hold their 
own on the condition that they are not discussed Peoples 
cannot change their ideas and dogmas without being at once 
obliged to change their civilisation. 





Preponderating influence of religious ideas They have always 
constituted the most important element of the life of peoples 
Religious ideas responsible for the majority of historical events 
and social and political institutions A new civilisation 
always comes into existence with a new religious idea Power 
of the religious ideal Its influence on character It directs 
all the faculties towards the same end The political, artistic, 
and literary history of peoples is the offspring of their beliefs 
The slightest change in the state of a people's belief results in 
an entire series of transformations in its existence Various 



PEOPLES 199-208 

The great advances made by each civilisation have always 
been realised by a small elite of superior minds Nature of 
their role They synthesise all the efforts of a race Examples 
supplied by great discoveries Political role of great men 
They embody the dominant ideal of their race Influence of 
the great hallucinated Inventors of genius transform a 
civilisation The fanatics and the hallucinated make history. 




Dissolution of psychological species How hereditary dis- 
positions which had required centuries for their formation 
may be rapidly lost A very long time is always necessary for 
a people to raise itself to a high level of civilisation, and in 
some cases a very short time for it to descend therefrom The 
principal factor in the decadence of a people is the lowering of 
its character The mechanism of the dissolution of civilisations 



has hitherto been the same for all peoples Symptoms of 
decadence presented by some Latin peoples Development of 
egoism Diminution of initiative and will power Lowering 
of character and morality The youth of the present day 
Probable influence of Socialism Its dangers and its strength 
How it will cause the civilisations that undergo it to return 
to wholly barbarous forms of evolution The peoples among 
whom it will be able to triumph. 

GENERAL CONCLUSIONS . ... . . 230-236 



Origin and development of the idea of equality The consequences it 
has had The price already paid for its application Its influence 
at the present day on the masses The problems examined in the 
present work An inquiry into the principal factors of the general 
evolution of peoples Is this evolution determined by institutions ? 
The elements of each civilisation : institutions, arts, creeds, etc. , 
and whether they have not certain psychological foundations 
peculiar to each people ? The element of chance in history and 
its permanent laws. 

f^HE civilisation of a people is based on a small 
* number of fundamental ideas, which determine 
its institutions, its literature and its arts. These ideas 
come very slowly into being, and they are also very 
slow to disappear. Long after their erroneous nature 
has become clear to cultivated minds, they remain 
indisputable truths for the masses, and continue to 
exert their influence on the rank and file of a nation. 
It is difficult to obtain recognition for a new idea, 
but it is no less difficult to discredit an idea that has 



long been generally accepted. Humanity has always 
been exceedingly loth to abandon its decayed ideas 
and its moribund gods. 

It is barely a century and a half ago that certain 
philosophers, who, it should be remarked, were very 
ignorant of the primitive history of man, of the varia- 
tions of his mental constitution and of the laws of 
heredity, propounded the idea of the equality of 
individuals and races. 

This idea, which would naturally be most attractive 
to the masses, ended by firmly implanting itself in 
their mind, and speedily bore fruit. It has shaken 
the foundation of the old societies, given birth to 
the most formidable of revolutions, and thrown the 
Western world into a series of convulsions, the end 
of which it is impossible to foresee. 

Doubtless certain of the inequalities among indi- 
viduals and races were too apparent to be seriously 
disputed ; but people found it easy to persuade them- 
selves that these inequalities were merely the outcome 
of differences of education, that all men are born 
equally intelligent and good, and that the sole respon- 
sibility for their perversion lies with the institutions 
they live under. This being the case the remedy was 
simple in the extreme : all that had to be done was 


to reform the institutions and to give every man an 
identical education. It is in this way that institutions 
and education have ended by becoming the great 
panaceas of modern democrats, the means of reme- 
dying inequalities which clash with the immortal 
principles that are the only divinities that survive 

And yet science, as it has progressed, has proved 
the vanity of the theories of equality and shown that 
the mental gulf created by the past between indi- 
viduals and races can only be filled up by the slowly 
accumulating action of heredity. Modern psychology, 
together with the stern lessons of experience, has 
demonstrated that the institutions and the education 
which suit some individuals and some races are most 
harmful to others. But when ideas are once in circu- 
lation it is not in the power of philosophers to destroy 
them when they arrive at the conviction that they are 
erroneous. Like a swollen stream that has overflown 
its banks, the idea continues its destructive progress 
with which nothing can interfere. 

There is no psychologist, no traveller, no fairly 
intelligent statesman who is not aware how erroneous 
is this chimerical notion of the equality of men, 
which has thrown the world into confusion, brought 


about in Europe a gigantic revolution, involved 
America in the sanguinary War of Succession, and 
landed all the French colonies in a state of lamentable 
decadence ; yet in spite of this knowledge they are 
few indeed who venture to combat this notion. 

Moreover the idea of equality, far from being on 
the decline, continues to make headway. It is in the 
name of this idea that socialism, which seems destined 
to enslave before long the majority of Western peo- 
ples, pretends to ensure their welfare. It is in its 
name that the modern woman, forgetting the deep- 
lying mental differences that separate her from man, 
claims the same rights and the same education as man, 
and will end, if she be triumphant, in making of the 
European a nomad without a home or a family. 

The masses scarcely trouble themselves about the 
political and social upheavals to which these levelling 
principles have given rise or about the far graver 
events they have yet to bring forth, and the states- 
men of the present day are in power too short a time 
for them to be more heedful. Moreover public 
opinion has become the sovereign authority, and it 
would be impossible not to bow to it. 

The only real measure of the social importance of 
an idea is the influence it exerts on men's minds. 


The degree of truth or error it contains is only of 
interest from a philosophic point of view. When an 
idea has come to be a sentiment with the masses, all 
the consequences it involves must be undergone in 

We see then that it is by means of education and 
institutions that the modern dream of equality en- 
deavours to seek realisation. It is in their name that, 
reforming the unjust laws of nature, we attempt to 
cast in the same mould the intelligences of the 
negroes of the Martinique, of the Guadeloupe and 
of the Senegal, those of the Arabs of Algeria and 
finally those of the Asiatics. The chimera is doubt- 
less quite unrealisable, but experience alone can show 
the danger of chimeras. Reason is incapable of 
transforming men's convictions. 

The object of this work is to describe the psycho- 
logical characteristics which constitute the soul of 
races, and to show how the history of a people and 
its civilisation are determined by these characteristics. 
Neglecting details, or only considering them so far as 
they are indispensable to the proof of the principles 
advanced, we shall examine the formation and mental 

constitution of the historic races, that is of the races 




jff artificially formed in historic times by the chances of 

conquest, immigration and political changes, and we 
shall endeavour to demonstrate that their history is 
determined by their mental constitution. We shall 
'- note the degree of fixity or variability of the charac- 
teristics of races. We shall try to find out whether 
individuals and peoples tend towards equality or, on 
the contrary, towards greater and greater differen- 
tiation. We shall then examine whether the elements 
composing a civilisation, its arts, its institutions, its 
beliefs, are not direct manifestations of the soul of 

races, and whether in consequence it is not impossible 

that they should pass from one people to another. 

We shall conclude by attempting to determine what 
are the necessities under the influence of which 
civilisations decay and die out. We have dealt at 
length with the problems in question in various works 
on the civilisations of the East. This short volume 
should be regarded as a brief synthesis. 

The point that has remained most clearly fixed in 
my mind, after long journeys through the most varied 
countries, is that each people possesses a mental 
constitution as unaltering as its anatomical charac- 
teristics, a constitution which is the source of its 
sentiments, thoughts, institutions, beliefs and arts. 


Tocqueville and other illustrious thinkers have ima- 
gined that they have discovered in the institutions of 
the various peoples the cause of their evolution. I, 
on the contrary, am persuaded and hope to prove, 
while choosing my examples from the countries 
studied by Tocqueville, that institutions are of ex- 
tremely slight importance as regards the evolution of 
civilisation. They are most often effects and but 
very rarely causes. 

The history of peoples is determined, no doubt, by 
very different factors. It is full of particular cases, 
of accidents which have taken place but which might 
not have taken place. Side by side, however, with 
these chances, with these accidental circumstances, 
there are great permanent laws which govern the 
general course of each civilisation. The mental con- 
stitution of races proceeds from the most general, the 
most primordial of these permanent laws. The life 
of a people, its institutions, beliefs, and arts are but 
the visible expression of its invisible soul. For a 
people to transform its institutions, beliefs, and arts it 
must first transform its soul ; to enable it to bequeath 
its civilisation to another people, it would be neces- 
sary that it should be able to bequeath its soul. 
Doubtless this is not what history teaches, but we 


shall easily show that in recording contrary assertions 
it has allowed itself to be misled by vain appearances. 

The reformers who have followed one another for 
a century past have endeavoured to change every- 
thing : Gods, the earth and men ; but their efforts 
have been wholly unavailing so far as regards the 
century-old characteristics of the souls of races which 
time has established. 

The conception of the irreducible differences which 
separate human beings is entirely contrary to the 
ideas of modern socialists, but it is not the teachings 
of science that could induce the apostles of a new 
dogma to renounce their illusory doctrines. Their 
efforts are a new phase of the eternal crusade of 
humanity in quest of happiness, that treasure of 
Hesperides for which the peoples have been searching 
from the dawn of history onwards. The dream of 
equality would perhaps avail as much as the old 
illusions which cradled us in the past, were it not that 
it is destined to be shattered at an early date on the 
immovable rock of natural inequalities. Together 
with old age and death, these inequalities are a part of 
those apparent iniquities of which nature is full arid 
to which man must submit. 







I low the naturalists classify species Application of their methods to 
man Defective side of the classifications of the human races at 
present in vogue Foundations of a psychological description 
The average types of the races How they may be established by 
observation The psychological factors which determine the aver- 
age type of a race The influence of ancestors and that of the 
immediate parents Common psychological groundwork possessed 
by all the individuals of a race Immense influence of bygone 
generations on the present generation Mathematical reasons for 
this influence How the collective soul has spread from the family 
to the village, from the city to the surrounding district Advantages 
and dangers of the conception of the city Circumstances under 
which the formation of the collective soul is impossible Example 
of Italy How the natural races have given way to the historic 

TV T ATURALISTS base the classification of species 

* ^ on the observation of certain anatomical 

characteristics regularly and constantly reproduced 


by heredity. We are aware to-day that these charac- 
teristics are transformed by the hereditary accumula- 
tion of imperceptible changes. Still, if attention be 
confined to the comparatively short period covered 
by history, the species may be said to be invariable. 

Applied to man, the methods of classification of 
the naturalists have allowed of the determining of a 
certain number of perfectly distinct types. By the 
aid of clearly defined anatomical characteristics, such 
as the colour of the skin, and the shape and volume 
of the skull, it has been possible to establish that the 
human race comprises several species which are quite 
distinct and probably of very different origin. In the 
eyes of the scientific men who are respectful of religious 
traditions, these species are simply races. However, 
as has been rightly observed, " if the Negro and the 
Caucasian were snails, all zoologists would affirm 
unanimously that they constitute excellent species, 
which could never have descended from the same 
couple from which they had gradually come to 

These anatomical characteristics, those at least of 
them that can be traced by our analysis, only allow 
of very summary general divisions. Their divergencies 
are only perceptible in the case of the most distinct 


human species ; of the white and yellow races, or the 
negroes for example. Peoples, however, that closely 
resemble one another as regards their physique, may 
be widely different as regards their modes of feeling 
and acting, and in consequence as regards their 
civilisations, beliefs, and arts. Is it possible, for in- 
stance, to class in one and the same group a Spaniard, 
an Englishman, and an Arab? Are not the mental 
differences that exist between them apparent to 
everybody, and to be detected throughout their 
history ? 

In the absence of anatomical characteristics, it has 
been proposed to base the classification of certain 
peoples on various elements, such as language, belief, 
and political organisation ; but this mode of classifica- 
tion will scarcely bear examination. 

The elements of classification which anatomy, 
languages, environment, or political organisation are 
incapable of furnishing are supplied by psychology, 
which shows that behind the institutions, arts, beliefs, 
and political upheavals of each people, lie certain 
moral and intellectual characteristics that determine 
its evolution. It is the whole of these characteristics 
that form what may be called the soul of a race. 

Each race possesses a mental constitution as un- 


varying as its anatomical constitution. There seems to 
be no doubt that the former corresponds to a certain 
special structure of the brain, but as science is not 
sufficiently advanced as yet to acquaint us with this 
structure, we cannot have recourse to it as a basis of 
classification. Moreover, a knowledge of it would in 
no way modify the description of the mental con- 
stitution of which it is the determining factor and 
which is revealed to us by observation. 

The moral and intellectual characteristics, whose 
association forms the soul of a people, represent the 
synthesis of its entire past, the inheritance of all its 
ancestors, the motives of its conduct. They appear 
to be very variable in individuals of the same race, 
but observation proves that the majority of the indi- 
viduals of a given race always possess a certain 
number of common psychological characteristics, 
which are as stable as the anatomical characteristics 
that allow of the classification of species, while, like 
these latter characteristics, the psychological character- 
istics are regularly and constantly reproduced by 

This aggregate of psychological elements observable 
jti all the individuals of a race constitutes what may 
r igj>tly be called the national character. Together 


they form the average type which permits of a people 
being defined. A thousand Frenchmen, Englishmen, 
or Chinamen, chosen at hazard, offer notable differ- 
ences amongst themselves, but nevertheless, owing to 
racial heredity, they possess common characteristics 
which allow of the determining of an ideal type of 
the Frenchman, the Englishman, and the Chinaman 
analogous to the ideal type which the naturalist pre- 
sents when he describes in a general manner the dog 
or the horse. Applicable to the different varieties of 
dogs or horses, such a description can only include 
the characteristics common to them all and not those 
which enable their numerous individual specimens to 
be distinguished. 

Provided a race be sufficiently ancient, and in con- 
sequence homogeneous, its average type is established 
with sufficient clearness for it to be readily noted by 
the observer. 

When we visit a foreign people the only charac- 
teristics that can arrest our attention are precisely 
those that are common to all the inhabitants of the 
country we are travelling through, since they are the 
only characteristics that are constantly repeated. The 
individual characteristics, being seldom repeated, 
escape us, and before long we not only distinguish 


at first sight between an Englishman, an Italian, or 
a Spaniard, but we are perfectly able to ascribe to 
them certain moral and intellectual characteristics, 
which are the very fundamental characteristics that 
we referred to above. An Englishman or a Gascon, 
an inhabitant of Normandy or Flanders, corresponds 
to a type of which we have a perfectly clear idea and 
of which we can easily give a description. Applied 
to an isolated individual, the description may seem 
very inadequate and sometimes inexact ; applied to 
the majority of the individuals of one of these races 
it will depict them perfectly. The unconscious pro- 
cess by which we arrive at an idea of the physical 
and mental type of a people is absolutely identical 
in its essence with the method by which a naturalist 
classifies species. 

This identity of the mental constitution of the 
majority of the individuals of a race is due to very 
simple physiological reasons. Each individual is the 
product not merely of his immediate parents but also 
of his race, that is of the entire series of his ascend- 
ants. A learned economist, M. Cheysson, has calcu- 
lated that in France, supposing there to be three 
generations in a century, each of us would have in 
his veins the blood of at least twenty millions of the 


people living in the year 1000. " In consequence all 
the inhabitants of a given locality, of a given district, 
necessarily possess common ancestors, are moulded 
of the same clay, bear the same impress, and they 
are all brought back unceasingly to the average type 
by this long and heavy chain, of which they are 
merely the last links. We are the children at once 
of our parents and our race. Our country is our 
second mother for physiological and hereditary as 
well as sentimental reasons." 

If it be wished to state in precise language the in- 
fluences which govern the individual and direct his 
conduct, they may be said to be of three kinds. The 
first and certainly the most important is the influence 
of ancestors ; the second, the influence of the imme- 
diate parents ; the third, commonly supposed to be 
the most powerful, but nevertheless the weakest, is > 
the influence of environment. The influence of en- 
vironment, including in its scope the various physical 
and moral influences to which the individual is sub- 
jected during his life, and particularly during his r 
education, produces but very slight variations. The 
influences of environment only become really effective 
when heredity has caused their action to be continued 
in the same direction during a long period. 


Do what he may, then, the individual is always and 
above all the representative of his race. The totality 
of the ideas and sentiments that are, as it were, the 
birthright of all the individuals of a given country 
form the soul of the race. Invisible in its essence, 
this soul is very visible in its effects, since it de- 
termines in reality the entire evolution of a 

A race may be compared to the totality of the cells 
that constitute a living being. The existence of these 
milliards of cells is very short, whereas the existence 
of the being formed by their union is relatively very 
long ; they possess at once their own personal life 
and a collective life, that of the being of which they 
form the substance. In the same way each individual 
of a race has a very short individual life and a very 
long collective life. This latter life is that of the race 
of which he is sprung, which he helps to perpetuate, 
and on which he is always dependent. 

A race is to be regarded as a permanent being that 
is independent of time. This permanent being is 
composed of the long succession of the dead who 
were its ancestors, as well as of the living individuals 
who constitute it at a given moment. To understand 
the true signification of a race, it must be considered 


with regard both to its past and its future. The dead, 
besides being infinitely more numerous than the 
living, are infinitely more powerful. They reign over 
the vast domain of the unconscious, that invisible 
domain which exerts its sway over all the manifesta- 
tions of the intelligence and of character. A people 
is guided far more by its dead than by its living 
members. It is by its dead, and by its dead alone, 
that a race is founded. Century after century our 
departed ancestors have fashioned our ideas and 
sentiments, and in consequence all the motives of our 
conduct. The generations that have passed away do 
not bequeath us their physical constitution merely; 
they also bequeath us their thoughts. The dead are 
the only undisputed masters of the living. We bear 
the burden of their mistakes, we reap the reward of 
their virtues. 

The formation of the mental constitution of a people 
does not demand, as does the creation of animal 
species, those geological periods whose immense 
duration defies calculation. Still, the time it demands 
is considerable. To create in such a people as the 
French, even to the comparatively slight extent 
accomplished as yet, the community of sentiments 
and thought that forms its soul, more than ten cen- 


turies have been necessary. 1 Perhaps the most 
important result of the French Revolution was to 
hasten this formation by greatly promoting the 
breaking up of the minor nationalities : Picards, 
Flemish, Burgundians, Gascons, Bretons, men of 
Provence, &c., into which France was formerly 
divided. Doubtless the unification is far from being 
complete, and it is more especially because we are 
composed of too varied races, and in consequence 
have too different ideas and sentiments, that we are 
the victims of dissensions unknown to more homo- 
geneous peoples to the English, for example. In 

1 This lapse of time, long as it may seem from the point of view of 
history, is in reality comparatively short, since it only represents thirty 
generations. The reason why so relatively brief an interval is sufficient 
to fix certain characteristics is that when a cause acts for some length or 
time in the same direction, it speedily produces very considerable effects. 
Mathematics teach us that when a cause persistently produces the same 
effect, the causes increase in arithmetical progression (i, 2, 3, 4, 5, &c. ), 
and the effects in geometrical progession (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, &c.). The 
causes are the logarithms of the effects. In the famous problem of the 
doubling of the grains of wheat on the squares of a chessboard, the 
successive numbers of the square are the logarithms of the number of 
grains of wheat. Similarly in the case of money invested at compound 
interest, the number of years is the logarithm of the accumulated capital. 
It is for reasons of this order that the majority of social phenomena 
may be expressed by very nearly similar geometrical curves. In another 
work I arrived at the conclusion that these curves might be expressed 
analytically by the equation of the parabola or the hyperbola. My 
learned friend, M. Cheysson, is of opinion that they are better repre- 
sented, as a rule, by an exponential equation. 


England, the Saxon, the Norman, and the Ancient 
Briton have ended by forming, as the result of fusion, 
a very homogeneous type, and everything in conse- 
quence is homogeneous in the domain of conduct. 
Thanks to this fusion, the English have acquired in 
a high degree the three fundamental bases of the soul 
of a people : common sentiments, common interests, 
and common beliefs. When a nation has reached 
this stage, there is an instinctive agreement amongst 
all its members on all great questions, and it ceases 
to be a prey to serious dissensions. 

This community of sentiments, ideas, beliefs, and 
interests, created by slow, hereditary accumulations, 
gives a high degree of identity and fixity to the 
mental constitution of a people. It was the cause 
of the greatness of Rome in ancient times, and 
at the present day it is the source of the greatness 
of England. The moment it disappears, peoples 
begin to break up, The role of Rome was at an 
end when it ceased to possess it. 

The congeries of sentiments, ideas, traditions, and 
beliefs which form the soul of a collectivity of men 
has always existed more or less in the case of all 
peoples and at all ages, but its progressive extension 
has been slowly accomplished. Restricted at first 


to the family and gradually extended to the village, 
the city, and the province, the collective soul has only 
spread to all the inhabitants of a country in com- 
paratively modern times. It was only when this last 
result had been achieved, that the notion of a native 
country, as we understand it to-day, came into exist- 
ence. The notion is not possible until the national 
soul is formed. The Greeks never got beyond the 
notion of the city, and their cities were always at 
war, because in point of fact they were always very 
foreign to one another. For two thousand years 
past India has known no other unity than the 
village, and it is for this reason that for two thousand 
years the country has always been subject to foreign 
rulers, whose ephemeral empires have come to an 
end as easily as they were formed. 

Weak though it be from the point of view of 
military strength, the conception of the city as the 
sole native country has, on the contrary, always been 
very effective from the point of view of the develop- 
ment of civilisation. Though less spacious than the 
soul of the native country, the soul of the city has 
at times been more fruitful. Athens in ancient times, 
Florence and Venice during the Middle Ages, show 
us the degree of civilisation which may be attained 
to by small agglomerations of men. 


When small cities or small provinces have lived an 
independent life for a considerable length of time, 
they end by possessing so stable a soul that its 
fusion with those of neighbouring cities and pro- 
vinces, with a view to the formation of a national 
soul, becomes almost impossible. Such a fusion, 
even if it be capable of being brought about, as 
happens when the elements brought together are not 
too dissimilar, is never the work of a day, but only 
that of centuries. To achieve such a work, a Riche- 
lieu or a Bismarck is necessary, but they only bring 
it to a head, when it has been long in elaboration. 
It is possible indeed for a country, as has happened 
in the case of Italy, to arrive suddenly, as the result 
of exceptional circumstances, at forming a single 
State, but it would be a mistake to suppose that 
it thus acquires simultaneously a national soul. It 
is clear to me that in Italy there are Piedmontese, 
Sicilians, Venetians, Romans, etc., but it is not clear 
as yet that there are Italians. 

At the present day, whatever be the race under 
consideration, whether it be homogeneous or not, by 
the mere fact that it is civilised and for a long while 
past has played its part in history, it must always be 
regarded as an artificial and not as a natural race. 


Natural races are scarcely to be met with except 
among savages. It is only among savages that it 
is possible to find peoples of absolute racial purity. 
At the present day the majority of civilised races 
are merely historical races. 

We are not concerned here with the origin of races. 
That they have been formed by nature or by history 
is beyond our purpose. What interests us is their 
characteristics such as they have been constituted 
by a long past. Kept up during centuries by the 
same conditions of existence and accumulated by 
heredity, these characteristics have ended by ac- 
quiring a high degree of fixity and by determining 
the type of each people. 



The variability of the character of races, and not its fixity, constitutes 
the apparent rule Reasons for this appearance Invariability of 
the fundamental characteristics and variability of the secondary 
characteristics Analogies between the psychological characteristics 
and the irreducible and modifiable characteristics of the animal 
species It is only environment, circumstances, and education that 
influence the accessory psychological characteristics The possi- 
bilities of character Examples furnished by the different periods 
The men of the Terror What they became at different periods 
How national characteristics endure in spite of revolutions 
Various examples Conclusion. 

IT is only by a careful study of the evolution 
of civilisations that the fixity of the mental con- 
stitution of races is brought home to the observer. 
At first sight it is variability and not fixity that 
appears to be the general rule. The history of 
peoples might induce the belief that their soul under- 
goes on occasion very rapid and very far-reaching 
transformations. Does there not seem, for example, 

3 '7 


to be a very considerable difference between the 
character of an Englishman of the time of Cromwell 
and that of a modern Englishman ? Does not the 
circumspect and subtle Italian of the present day 
seem a very different being from the fierce and 
impulsive Italian described in the Memoirs of Ben- 
venuto Cellini? Not to go so far afield, and to 
confine ourselves to France, how numerous are the 
apparent changes of character in the course of a 
few centuries, and even at times in the course of 
a few years ! What historian has not remarked the 
difference between the French national character of 
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries ? and in 
modern times, can anything seem more distinct than 
the character of the ferocious Conventionalists and 
that of the docile slaves of Napoleon ? And yet 
they were the same men, though in the space of 
a few years they seem to have changed entirely. 
To elucidate the causes of these changes, we will 
remind the student in the first place that a psycho- 
logical species is formed, as is an anatomical species, 
of a very small number of irreducible, fundamental 
characteristics around which are grouped accessory 
characteristics which are modifiable and changeable. 
The breeder who transforms the apparent structure 


of an animal, or the gardener who modifies the aspect 
of a plant to such a degree that it is unrecognisable 
to the unpractised eye, has not affected to the 
slightest extent the fundamental characteristics of 
the species ; all they have done has been to influence 
the accessory characteristics. In spite of all the 
artifices employed, the fundamental characteristics 
always tend to reappear with each new generation. 

The mental constitution possesses fundamental 
characteristics as immutable as the anatomical 
characteristics of animal species, but it also possesses 
accessory characteristics that are easily modified. 
It is these latter characteristics that may easily be 
changed by environment, circumstances, education 
and various other factors. 

It must also be remembered, and the point is 
essential, that we all possess in our mental constitu- / 
tion certain possibilities of character, which circum- 
stances do not always provide with an opportunity 
of manifesting themselves. When they come to the 
front, a new and more or less ephemeral personality 
at once takes shape. It is in this way that at times 
of great political or religious crisis, momentary 
changes of character are observed, which would seem 
to indicate that manners, ideas, conduct, everything 


in short, had undergone a change. Everything has 
indeed changed, as happens to the tranquil surface 
of a lake lashed by a storm ; but it is rare that the 
change is lasting. 

It is in consequence of these possibilities of 
character put in operation by certain exceptional 
events, that the actors in great religious and political 
crises appear to us to be made of superior stuff to 
ourselves, to be a sort of giants of whom we are the 
degenerate sons. In reality they were men like our- 
selves, in whom circumstances had given free rein 
to possibilities of character possessed by all of us. 
Take, for example, the " giants of the Convention " 
who held Europe in check, and sent their adversaries 
to the guillotine for a mere contradiction. At bottom 
they were respectable, pacific citizens like ourselves, 
who in ordinary times would probably have led 
the most tranquil and retired existence in their 
studies or behind their counters. Extraordinary 
events caused the vibration of certain of their brain 
cells which under usual conditions would not have 
been called into activity, and they developed into 
those colossal figures, whom posterity is at a loss 
to understand. Born a hundred years later, Robes- 
pierre would doubtless have been an upright magis- 


trate on excellent terms with the local priest ; 
Fouquier-Tinville a magistrate possessing, perhaps 
in rather a higher degree than his colleagues, the 
harshness and supercilious manners of his profession, 
but greatly appreciated for his zeal in bringing 
delinquents to book ; Saint-Just would have made 
an excellent schoolmaster, esteemed by his chiefs 
and very proud of the decoration he would certainly 
have ended by obtaining. To remove all doubt as 
to the accuracy of these previsions it is sufficient 
to note what Napoleon accomplished with such of 
the ferocious Terrorists as had not the time to cut 
off mutually each others' heads. The majority of 
them became staid officials, tax collectors, magistrates 
or prefects. The waves stirred up by the storm of 
which we spoke above had calmed down, and the 
troubled lake had recovered its tranquil surface. 

Even in the most troubled periods, in those which 
produce the strangest variations of personality, it 
is easy to trace the fundamental characteristics 
of the race beneath the new developments. Was 
there much difference in reality between the cen- 
tralised, dictatorial and despotic regime of our strict 
Jacobins and the centralised, dictatorial and despotic 
regime to which fifteen centuries of monarchy had 


accustomed the French nation ? All the revolutions 
of the Latin peoples result in this obstinately re- 
curring regime, in this incurable need of being 
governed, because it represents a sort of synthesis 
of the instincts of the race. It was not solely the 
glamour attaching to his victories that enabled 
Bonaparte to make himself master of France. When 
he transformed the republic into a dictatorship, the 
hereditary instincts of the race manifested themselves 
day by day with greater intensity ; indeed, in the 
absence of an officer of genius, any adventurer 
might have filled his part. Fifty years later the heir 
to his name had only to show himself to obtain the 
votes of a people tired of liberty and eager for 
servitude. It was not the i8th Brumaire that 
established the fortunes of Napoleon, but the soul 
of his race which he was about to trample beneath 
his iron heel. 1 

1 "At his first gesture," writes Taine, "the French bowed in 
obedience, and they persisted in their attitude, as if it were their 
natural condition ; the humble, the soldiers, and the peasants, with 
animal fidelity ; the great, the dignitaries and functionaries, with 
Byzantine servility. The Republicans offered no resistance ; on the 
contrary, it was among them that he found the best instruments of his 
reign, his Senators, Deputies, State Councillors, judges and officials 
of every rank. Beneath their talk of liberty and equality, he had been 
quick to divine their dictatorial instincts, their need of commanding, 
of surpassing their fellows, and even, subsidiarily and in addition, their 


The influence exerted on men by environment 
appears so great, because it operates on the accessory 
and transitory elements, or on those possibilities of 
character of which we have been speaking. In 
reality, the changes are not very profound. The 
mildest man, driven by hunger, attains to a degree 
of ferocity which renders him capable of every crime, 
and even leads him occasionally to devour his fellow 
man. Will it be said on this account that his habitual 
character has definitely changed ? 

If the conditions of civilisation procure a minority 
extreme wealth and develop in its members all the 
vices which are the inevitable consequence of luxury ; 
if they arouse violent desires in the remainder of the 
population without supplying the means of satisfying 
them, the result will be general discontent and unrest, 
which will influence conduct and provoke upheavals 
of every kind, but amid this discontent and these 
upheavals the fundamental characteristics of the race 
will always show themselves. In the past, the 
English-born inhabitants of the United States, when 

hungering after wealth and pleasure. Between the delegate of the 
Committee of Public Safety and the Minister, the Prefect or the sub- 
Prefect of the Empire, the difference is slight. The man is the same 
and it is only the costume that is altered : the carmagnole has been 
exchanged for an embroidered uniform. " 


engaged in civil war, displayed the same indomitable 
energy as they exhibit to-day in founding towns, 
universities, and manufactories. The national charac- 
ter has not been modified ; it is merely the objects 
that bring it into play that have changed. 

When examining in succession the various factors 
capable of influencing the mental constitution of 
peoples, we always observe that their influence is 
exerted on the accessory and transitory sides of 
character, while they scarcely affect the fundamental 
elements, or only affect them as the result of very 
slow hereditary accumulations. 

We do not conclude from what precedes that the 
psychological characteristics of peoples are invariable, 
but only that they possess, like the anatomical 
characteristics, a high degree of fixity. It is on 
account of this fixity that the soul of races changes 
so slowly during the course of ages. 



Psychological classification is based, as are anatomical classifications, 
on the determination of a small number of irreducible and funda- 
mental characteristics Psychological classification of the human 
races The primitive races The inferior races The average 
races The superior races The psychological elements the 
grouping of which allows of this classification The elements 
which are of the most importance Character Morality The 
intellectual qualities are modifiable by education The qualities 
appertaining to character are irreducible and constitute the 
unvarying element in each people Their role in history Why 
it is impossible for different races to understand and influence one 
another The reasons why it is impossible for an inferior people 
to adopt a superior civilisation. 

T ^7 HEN the grounds are examined, in a work 
* * on natural history, of the classification of 
species, it is at once observed that the irreducible, and 
in consequence the fundamental characteristics, which 
allow of the determination of each species, are very 
few in number. Their enumeration always occupies 
but a few lines. 


The reason is that the naturalist only concerns 
himself with the unvarying characteristics, and pays 
no heed to the transitory characteristics. Moreover 
these fundamental characteristics have as their 
inevitable consequence an entire series of other 

The case is the same with the psychological 
characteristics of races. If details be gone into, 
innumerable slight divergencies are found to exist 
between different peoples and different individuals. 
On the other hand, if only the fundamental charac- 
teristics be considered, they are seen to be very few 
in number for each people. It is only by examples 
we shall shortly adduce examples that are highly 
characteristic that it is possible to show clearly the 
influence of this small number of fundamental 
characteristics on the life of peoples. 

The only way to set forth the bases of a psycho- 
logical classification of races being to study in detail 
the psychology of the different peoples, a task that 
would demand in- itself several volumes, we shall 
confine ourselves to indicating their main lines. 

If only their general psychological characteristics 
be considered, the human races may be divided into 
four groups : (i) the primitive races ; (2) the inferior 


races ; (3) the average races ; (4) the superior 

The primitive races are those in which no trace 
of culture is met with. They have remained in that 
state bordering on animality which was traversed by 
our ancestors of the age of stone instruments. The 
Fuegians and the aboriginal Australians are examples 
in point. 

Above the primitive races are found the inferior 
races, represented more especially by the negroes. 
They are capable of attaining to the rudiments of 
civilisation, but to the rudiments only. They have 
never been able to get beyond quite barbarian forms 
of civilisation, even when chance has made them the 
heirs, as at Saint Domingo, of superior civilisa- 

Among the average races, we shall place the 
Chinese, the Japanese, the Mongolians, and the 
Semitic peoples. In the case of the Assyrians, the 
Mongolians, the Chinese, and the Arabs, they have 
created high types of civilisation, which only the 
European peoples have been able to surpass. 

Only the Indo-European peoples can be classed 
among the superior races. Both in antiquity, at the 
epoch of the Greeks and Romans, and in modern 


times they alone have been capable of great inven- 
tions in the arts, the sciences, and industry. It is to 
them that is due the high level reached by civilisation 
at the present day. It is they who have discovered 
steam and electricity. The least developed of these 
superior races, the Hindoos in particular, have risen 
to a level in the arts, letters, and philosophy to which 
the Mongolians, the Chinese, or the Semites have 
never been able to attain. 

No confusion is possible between the four great 
divisions we have just enumerated. The mental 
abyss that separates them is evident. It is only 
when it is desired to subdivide these groups that the 
difficulties begin. An Englishman, a Spaniard, or a 
Russian belong all of them to the division of superior 
peoples, but it is a matter of common know- 
ledge that the differences between them are very 

To determine these differences with precision, it 
would be necessary to take each people separately, 
and to describe its character. This is the course we 
shall shortly follow in the case of two of these peoples 
in order to give an application of the method and to 
show the importance of its consequences. 

For the moment, we can only indicate very 


summarily the nature of the principal psychological 
elements which allow of the differentiation of races. 

Among the primitive and inferior races and to 
find such races it is not necessary to go to the pure 
savages, since the lowest strata of the European 
societies are homologous with the primitive men 
a greater or less incapacity to reason is always met 
with, an incapacity, that is, to associate in the brain, 
with a view to compare them and to perceiving their 
analogies and differences, the ideas produced by past 
sensations or the words that are their signs, and the 
ideas produced by present sensations. There results 
from this incapacity to reason a great credulity and a 
complete absence of the critical spirit In the case of 
the superior being, on the contrary, the capacity of 
associating ideas, and of drawing conclusions from 
their association is very great, while the critical spirit 
and precision are highly developed. 

The inferior races further display but an in- 
finitesimal power of attention and reflection ; they 
possess the spirit of imitation in a high degree, the 
habit of drawing inaccurate general conditions from 
particular cases, a feeble capacity for observation and 
for deriving useful results from their observations, an 
extreme mobility of character and a very notable lack 


of foresight. The instinct of the moment is their 
only guide. Like Esau the type of the primitive 
being they are inclined to sell their birthright for a 
mess of pottage. When man is capable of weighing 
his future against his immediate interest, of giving 
himself a goal and pursuing it with perseverance, he 
has realised a considerable progress. 

The incapacity to foresee the distant consequences 
of acts and the tendency to be guided solely by the 
/ instinct of the moment condemns the individual as well 
as the race to remain for ever in a very inferior state. 
It is only in proportion as they are able to dominate 
their instincts, in proportion, that is, as they acquire 
will power and in consequence empire over them- 
selves, that peoples can understand the importance of 
discipline, the necessity of sacrificing themselves to 
an ideal and of raising themselves to a civilised state. 
Were it required to measure by a single standard the 
social level of peoples in history, I should be disposed 
to take as standard the degree of their aptitude for 
dominating their reflex impulses. The Romans in 
antiquity, the Anglo-Americans in modern times, 
represent the peoples who have possessed this quality 
in the highest measure. It has largely contributed to 
assure their greatness. 


It is by their general grouping and their respective 
development that the various psychological elements 
just enumerated form the mental constitutions which 
allow of the classification of individuals and races. 

Certain of these psychological elements appertain 
to character, and others to the intelligence. 

The superior races are distinguished from the 
inferior races by their character as well as by their 
intelligence, but it is more especially by their 
character that the superior races are distinguished 
from one another. This point has considerable 
social importance, and it deserves to be clearly 

Character is formed by the combination, in varying 
proportions, of the different elements which psycho- 
logists are accustomed at the present day to designate 
by the name of sentiments. Among the sentiments 
which play the most important part must more 
especially be noted perseverance, energy, and the 
power of self-control, faculties more or less dependent 
on the will. We would also mention morality among 
the fundamental elements of character, although it is 
the synthesis of somewhat complex sentiments. By| 
morality we mean hereditary respect for the rules on 
which the existence of a society is based. To possess 


morality means, for a people, to have certain fixed 
rules of conduct and not to depart from them. As 
these rules vary with time and place, morality 
appears in consequence to be a very variable matter, 
and it is so in fact ; but for a given people, at a given 
moment, it ought to be quite invariable. The off- 
spring of character, and in nowise of the intelligence, 
it is not solidly constituted until it has become 
hereditary, and, in consequence, unconscious. In a 
general way the greatness of peoples depends in a 
large measure on the level of their morality. 

The intellectual qualities are susceptible of being 
slightly modified by education ; those of character 
almost wholly escape its influence. When education 
does affect them, it is only in the case of neutral 
natures, whose will is almost non-existent, and who 
are ready in consequence to follow whatever impulse 
may be given them. These neutral natures are met 
with in individuals, but very rarely in an entire 
people, or, should they be thus observed, it is only in 
times of extreme decadence. 

The discoveries of the intelligence are easily 
transmitted from one people to another. The 
transmission of the qualities appertaining to character 
is impossible. They are the irreducible fundamental 


ments which allow of the differentiation of the ** 
ntal constitutions of the superior peoples. The 
scoveries due to the intelligence are the common 
patrimony of humanity ; qualities or defects of 
character constitute the exclusive patrimony of each 
people, they are the firm rock which the waters must 

h day by day for centuries before they can even 
r away its external asperities. They are the * 
equivalent of the irreducible element of the species, 
of the fins of fish, of the beak of the bird, of the tooth 
of the carnivorous animal. 

The character of a people and not its intelligence ^ 
determines its historical evolution, and governs its 
destiny. It is always to be met with behind the 
apparent fantasies of that most powerless chance, 
that most fictitious Providence, that very real Fate 
which, according to varying beliefs, guides the actions 
of men. 

The influence of character is sovereign in the life 
of peoples, whereas that of the intelligence is in truth 
very feeble. The Romans of the decadence possessed 
intelligence far more refined than that of their 
rude ancestors, but they had lost the qualities of 
character of the latter ; the perseverance, the energy, 
the invincible tenacity, the capacity to sacrifice them- 



selves to an ideal, the inviolable respect for the laws 
which had made the greatness of their forefathers. 
It is due to their character that sixty thousand English 
are able to maintain beneath their yoke two hundred 
and fifty millions of Hindoos, many of whom are at 
least their equals in intelligence, while a few surpass 
them immensely as regards their artistic taste and the 
depth of their philosophic views. It is in consequence 
of their character that they are the masters of the 
most gigantic colonial empire known to history. It 
is character and not intelligence that goes to the 
founding of societies, religions, and empires. Character 
it is that enables peoples to feel and act. They have 
never derived much advantage from too great a 
desire to reason and think. 1 

1 The extreme weakness and slight practical interest of the works of 
professional psychologists is more especially to be ascribed to the fact 
that they have confined themselves almost exclusively to the study of 
the intelligence, and have almost entirely neglected that of charucter. 
M. Paulhan in his interesting Essai sur les caracteres , and M. Ribot 
in a few passages, unfortunately only too short, are almost the only 
psychologists I can recall who have pointed out the importance of 
character, and noted that it forms the true basis of the mental con- 
stitution. "The intelligence," the learned professor of the College 
of France rightly declares, "is only an accessory form of the mental 
evolution. The fundamental type is character, which the intelligence 
rather tends to destroy when it is too developed." 

It is to the study of character that attention must be directed, as I am 
attempting to show in these pages, when it is desired to describe the 
comparative psychology of peoples. It would be difficult to understand 


It is the mental constitution of races that determines 
their conception of the world and of life, and, in con- 
sequence, their conduct. We shall shortly support 
this statement by important examples. Impressed in 
a certain manner by external things, the individual 
feels, thinks, and acts in a very different manner from 
that in which will feel, think, and act those who 
possess a different mental constitution. The con- 
sequence is that it is impossible that mental 
constitutions, constructed as they are on very varied 
lines, should arrive at mutual comprehension. The 
century-old conflicts of races are the result more 
particularly of the incompatibility of their respective 
characters. It is impossible to arrive at any under- 
standing of history unless it be continually borne in 
mind that different races cannot feel, think, or act in 
the same manner, and that, in consequence, they 
cannot comprehend one another. Doubtless the 
different peoples have in their languages common 

that a science so important for history and politics are its derivations 
should never have been made the object of study, were it not for the 
knowledge that it can be acquired neither in laboratories nor in books, 
but only in the course of long travel. There is no indication moreover 
that it is on the eve of being taken up by the professional psychologists, 
who at the present day are more and more abandoning what used to be 
their domain, and confining themselves to anatomical and psychological 


words which they imagine are synonymous, but these 
common words arouse entirely dissimilar sensations, 
ideas, and modes of thought in those who hear them 
uttered. It is necessary to have lived among peoples 
whose mental constitution differs to a sensible degree 
from our own, even though frequenting amongst them 
only such individuals as speak our language and 
have received our education, to appreciate the depth 
of the gulf that separates the thought of the various 
peoples. It is possible to obtain some idea of this 
phenomenon, without having recourse to extensive 
travel, by observing the great mental separation that 
exists between the civilised man and woman, even 
when the latter is highly educated. The man and 
the woman may have common interests and senti- 
ments, but never like chains of thought. They might 
converse with one another for centuries without 
understanding one another, because they are con- 
structed on lines too different to allow of their being 
impressed in the same manner by external things. 
The difference in their logical faculties is alone 
sufficient to create between them an insuperable 

This abyss between the mental constitution of the 
different races explains how it is that the superior 


peoples have never been able to impose their civilisa- 
tion on inferior peoples. The idea, still so wide- 
spread, that education can achieve this result, is one 
of the most baneful illusions that the theoreticians of 
pure reason have ever brought into existence. Thanks 
to the memory possessed by the most inferior beings 
a privilege in nowise confined to man it is doubt- 
less possible for education to impart to an individual 
somewhat low down in the human scale the totality 
of the notions possessed by a European. A negro or 
a Japanese may easily take a university degree or 
become a lawyer ; the sort of varnish he thus acquires 
is however quite superficial, and has no influence on 
his mental constitution. What no education can 
give him, because they are created by heredity alone, 
are the forms of thought, the logic, and above all the 
character of the Western man. Our negro or our 
Japanese may accumulate all possible certificates 
without ever attaining to the level of the average 
European. It is easy to give him in ten years the 
culture of a well-educated Englishman. To make a 
real Englishman of him, that is to say a man acting 
as an Englishman would act in the different circum- 
stances of life, a thousand years would scarcely be 
sufficient. It is only in appearance that a people 


suddenly transforms its language, its constitution, its 
beliefs or its arts. For such changes to be really 
accomplished, it would be necessary that it should be 
able to transform its soul. 



The inequality between the different individuals of a race is greater in 
proportion to the superiority of the race Mental equality of all the 
individuals of inferior races To appreciate the differences that 
separate races, the superior individuals of each people and not its 
average representatives must be compared The progress of civilisa- 

Ition tends towards a greater and greater differentiation of indi- 
viduals and races Consequences of this differentiation The psy- 
chological reasons which prevent its becoming too considerable 
The individuals of the superior races are highly differentiated as 
regards their intelligence, and very slightly so as regards their cha- 
racter How heredity constantly tends to reduce individual superi- 
orities to the average type of the race Anatomical observations 
confirming the progressive psychological differentiation of races, 
individuals, and sexes. 

THE superior races are not distinguished from 
the inferior races solely by their psychologica 
and anatomical characteristics. A further distinction 
is supplied by the diversity of the elements of which 
they are composed. All the individuals of the inferior 
races, even as regards those of different sex, are on 



sensibly the same mental level. They all of them 
resemble one another, and they are thus a perfect ex- 
emplification of the equality dreamed of by our modern 
socialists. In the case of the superior races, on the 
contrary, the intellectual inequality of the individuals 
and the sexes is the law. 

For this reason, in order to appreciate the differences 
that separate peoples, their superior representatives 
when they possess such and not their inferior must 
be compared. Hindoos, Chinese, and Europeans are 
but slightly differentiated intellectually so far as their 
average representatives are concerned. On the other 
hand, when their superior representatives are compared 
their differentiation is found to be considerable. 

With the progress of civilisation, not only races, but 
also the individuals of each race those at least of the 
superior races tend to become more and more diffe- 
rentiated. The result of modern civilisation, clashing 
with our dreams of equality, is not to render men 
more and more equal intellectually, but, on the con- 
trary, more and more different. 

One of the principal consequences of civilisation is, 
on the one hand, to differentiate races by the daily 
increasing intellectual exertion it demands of peoples 
who have attained to a high degree of culture, and 


on the other to widen the distinctions between the 
various grades of which each civilised people is 

The conditions of modern industrial evolution 
condemn the inferior classes of civilised peoples to a 
highly specialised labour which, far from increasing 
their intelligence, merely tends to lessen it. A 
hundred years ago, a workman was a veritable artist 
capable of executing all the details of any piece of 
mechanism of a watch for example. To-day, he is 
a mere toiler, who never produces more than one 
speciality, who spends his life boring the same holes, 
polishing the same portion of an article, driving the 
same machine. The result is that the atrophy of his 
intelligence is soon complete. The manufacturer or 
the engineer who directs the workman is obliged, on 
the contrary, owing to the pressure of discoveries and 
competition, to possess far more numerous acquire- 
ments and much more enterprise and invention than 
his predecessor of a century back. His brain is con- 
stantly exercised, and, undergoing the law which 
applies to all organs in such a case, becomes more 
and more developed. 

Tocqueville had already pointed out this progressive 
differentiation of the social grades at a period when 


industry was far from having attained to the degree 
of development it has reached to-day. " In propor- 
tion as the principle of the division of labour receives 
more thorough application, the workman becomes 
weaker, of narrower intelligence, and more dependent, 
Art progresses, the artisan falls back. Every day the 
difference between the employer and the workman 

At the present day, a superior people may be con- 
sidered, from the intellectual point of view, to consti- 
tute a sort of pyramid of steps, the majority of which 
are formed by the masses of the population, the upper 
steps by the intelligent classes, 1 and the point of the 
pyramid by a very small elite of men of science, inven- 
tors, artists, and writers, an exceedingly restricted 
group as compared with the rest of the population, but 

1 I say intelligent without adding cultured. It is a characteristic 
error of the Latin peoples to believe that intelligence and culture go 
together. Culture merely implies the possession of a certain amount of 
memory, but to acquire it no judgment, reflection, initiative or invention 
are necessary. Persons of very restricted intelligence are often met 
with among those who have passed examinations, while it is quite as 
common to find persons of a very slight degree of culture who are highly 
intelligent. The upper portion of our pyramid would be formed then 
by elements taken from all classes. All the professions contain a very 
small number of notable intelligences. Still it appears probable, in 
virtue of the laws of heredity, that what are known as the superior social 
classes contain the greater number, and it is doubtless herein that their 
superiority lies. 


the only group that determines the rank of a country 
in the intellectual scale of civilisation. It would suffice 
for it to disappear for all that constitutes the glory of 
a nation to disappear at the same time. "Were 
France, as Saint-Simon has rightly observed, to lose 
suddenly its fifty leading men of science, its fifty 
leading artists, its fifty leading manufacturers, its fifty 
leading agriculturists, the nation would become a 
body without a soul, it would be decapitated. If on 
the contrary it were to lose all its officials, the French 
would grieve at the loss because they are soft- 
hearted, but the country would sustain very little 

With the progress of civilisation, the differentiation 
between the extreme grades of a population proceeds 
with great rapidity ; it even tends, on occasion, to 
increase in what mathematicians call geometrical 
progression. It would suffice in consequence, if 
certain effects of heredity did not intervene, to 
allow time to act to see the superior grades of a 
population separated intellectually from the inferior 
grades by a distance as great as that which separates 
the white man from the negro, or even the negro from 
the monkey. 

For several reasons, however, this intellectual differ- 


entiation of the social grades, considerable though it 
becomes, is not accomplished with the rapidity that 
might be possible theoretically. In the first place, the 
differentiation is almost confined to the intelligence, 
and affects the character to a very slight extent ; and 
we know that it is the character and not the intelli- 
gence that plays the fundamental part in the life of 
peoples. In the second place, the masses are tending 
at the present day, in virtue of their organisation and 
discipline, to become all-powerful. Their hatred of 
intellectual superiority being evident, it is probable 
that every intellectual aristocracy is destined to be 
violently destroyed by periodic revolutions, in propor- 
tion as the masses become organised, and just as the 
ancient nobility was destroyed a century ago. When 
Socialism shall have become master in Europe, its 
only chance of enduring will be to exterminate all 
the individuals without exception endowed with a 
superiority capable of raising them, however slightly, 
above the most humble level. 

The two causes I have just set forth are of an arti- 
ficial order, since they are the result of conditions of 
civilisation that may vary. But there is a further and 
far more important cause it is an irresistible natural 
law which will always prevent the elite of a nation, 


not from becoming intellectually differentiated from 
the inferior grades, but from becoming so differenti- 
ated too rapidly. The present conditions of civilisa- 
tion, which tend more and more to differentiate men 
of the same race, are confronted by the powerful laws 
of heredity which tend to bring about the disappear- 
ance of the individuals who surpass the average in 
too marked a manner, or at least to bring them down 
to this average. 

Observations already old, recorded by the authors 
of investigations into heredity, have proved that the 
descendants of families distinguished by their intelli- 
gence are subject sooner or later and most usually 
at an early date to a process of degeneration which 
tends to extinguish them entirely. 

Great intellectual superiority seems, then, to carry 
with it the penalty that those who possess it leave 
behind them degenerate offspring. In reality the 
point of the social pyramid of which I spoke above 
can only subsist on the condition that it assimilates 
elements from below. If all the individuals com- 
posing this elite were to be relegated to an isolated 
island, their inter-marriages would result in the 
formation of a race displaying a variety of degene- 
rate symptoms and destined in consequence to dis- 


appear speedily. Great intellectual superiorities may 
be compared to the botanical monstrosities created 
by the artifice of a gardener. Left to themselves 
they die off or return to the average type of the 
species, for the species is all powerful since it repre- 
sents the long series of ancestors, 

Attentive study of the different peoples shows 
that while the individuals of a given race may be 
immensely differentiated as regards the intelligence, 
they are but slightly differentiated as regards the 
character, that unalterable rock of which I have 
already shown the permanence throughout the ages. 
In studying a race it should be considered, in conse- 
quence, from two very different points of view. From 
the intellectual point of view its value depends on a 
small elite to which is due the scientific, literary, and 
industrial progress of a civilisation. From the point 
of view of character, acquaintance with the average is 
alone important. The strength of peoples is always 
dependent on the level of this average. Peoples may 
do at a pinch without an intellectual Mite, but not 
without a certain level of character. We shall shortly 
prove this statement. 

It is thus seen that while the individuals of a race 
become more and more differentiated intellectually as 


time goes on, they always tend, as far as character is 
concerned, to oscillate round the average type of the 
race. It is to this average type, which progresses 
very slowly, that the great majority of the members 
of a nation belong. Around this fundamental kernel 
is found in the case at least of the superior peoples 
a thin layer of eminent minds, whose action is of 
capital importance as regards civilisation, but is with- 
out importance as regards the race. Incessantly 
being destroyed, it is incessantly being renewed at 
the expense of the average grades, which, for their 
part, vary but very slowly, since the slightest varia- 
tions, in order to become durable, must be accumu- 
lated in the same direction by heredity during several 

It was several years ago that I arrived, basing my 
conclusions on researches of a purely anatomical 
order, at the idea just enunciated touching the differ- 
entiation of individuals and races, and to justify which 
I have now invoked none but psychological reasons. 
As the two kinds of observation lead to the same 
results, I may be allowed to recall some of the con- 
clusions of my earlier investigations. They are based 
on measurements executed on several thousands of 
skulls, ancient and modern, belonging to different 


races. I proceed to give the more essential pas- 
sages : 

The volume of the skull bears a close relation to the intelligence, 
when, leaving individual cases out of consideration, series are dealt 
with. It is then found that what distinguishes inferior from superior 
races is not the slight variations in the average capacity of their skulls, 
but this essential fact that the superior race contains a certain number 
of individuals whose brain is highly developed, whereas the inferior 
race contains no such individuals. Races differ, in consequence, not in 
respect to the masses that constitute them, but in respect to the small 
number of individuals who stand out from the crowd. The average 
difference between the skull in the case of two peoples except when 
quite inferior races are under consideration is never very considerable. 

When the skulls are compared of the various human races, belonging 
to the past and present, it is found that the races in which the volume 
of the skull presents the greatest individual variations are the most 
highly civilised races ; that in proportion as a race grows civilised, the 
skulls of the individuals composing it become more and more differenti- 
ated ; a fact which leads to the result that civilisation conduces not to 
intellectual equality, but to an inequality that is always growing more 
pronounced. Anatomical and physiological equality only exist in the 
case of individuals of quite inferior races. The differences between the 
members of a tribe of savages, all of whom follow the same occupation, 
are perforce of the slightest. Between the peasant whose vocabulary 
consists of some three hundred words, and the man of learning who is 
familiar with a hundred thousand words and with the ideas that corre- 
spond to them, the difference is, on the contrary, enormous. 

I should add to what precedes that the differentiation of individuals 
brought about by the development of civilisation is also apparent in the 
case of the sexes. Among inferior peoples or the inferior classes of 
superior peoples the man and the woman are intellectually on much the 
same level. On the other hand, in proportion as peoples grow civilised 
the difference between the sexes is accentuated. 

The volume ot the male and female skull, even when the subjects 
compared, as in my investigations, are strictly of the same age, height, 
and weight, presents differences that increase rapidly with the degree of 
civilisation. Very slight in the case of the inferior races, these differ- 


ences become immense in the case of the superior races. In these 
superior races the feminine skulls are often scarcely more developed 
than those of the women of very inferior races. Whereas the average 
volume of the skulls of male Parisians is such as to range them among 
the largest known skulls, the average of the skulls of female Parisians 
classes them among the smallest skulls with which we are acquainted, 
almost on a level with the skulls of Chinese women, and scarcely above 
the feminine skulls of New Caledonia. 1 

1 Dr. Gustave le Bon, Recherches anatomiqius et mathematiqties sur 
les variations de volume dtt cerveau et sur leurs relations avec V intelli- 
gence : 8vo, 1879 (Memoir crowned by the Academy of Sciences and 
by the Society of Anthropology). 



How historical races are formed Conditions which allow of different 
races combining to form a single race Influence of the number of 
the individuals involved in the process, of the dissimilarity of their 
characters, of the environments, etc. Results of cross-breeding 
Causes of the great inferiority of half-breeds Mobility of the new 
psychological characteristics created by cross-breeding How these 
characteristics come to be fixed The critical periods of history 
Cross-breeding constitutes an essential factor in the formation of 
new races, and at the same time a powerful factor in the dissolution 
of civilisations Importance of the regime of castes Influence of 
environment Environment can only exert its influence on new 
races in process of formation, and on races whose ancestral 
characteristics are giving way before the action of cross-breeding 
Environment is without influence on old races Various examples 
The majority of the historical races of Europe are still in process 
of formation Political and social consequences Why the period 
of formation of historical races will soon be over. 

WE have already remarked that genuine races, 
in the scientific sense of the word, are 
scarcely to be met with among civilised peoples, but 
only historical races, by which is meant races created 

by the chances of conquest, immigration, politics, etc., 




and formed, in consequence, of a mixture of individuals 
of different origins. 

How do these heterogeneous races come to combine 
and to form an historical race possessing common 
psychological characteristics ? This is the point we 
are about to investigate. 

Let it first of all be observed that the elements 
brought together by chance do not always combine. 
The German, Hungarian, Slav, and other populations 
that live under Austrain rule form perfectly distinct 
races which have never attempted to fuse. The 
Irish, who live under the rule of the English, are 
another example of fusion not taking place. As 
for the quite inferior peoples, such as Redskins, 
Australians, or Tasmanians, not only do they not 
combine with the superior peoples, but they dis- 
appear rapidly after they have come in contact with 
them. Experience proves that every inferior people 
which is confronted with a superior people is 
inevitably condemned to disappear at an early date. 

Three conditions are necessary to allow of races 
fusing and forming a new and more or less homo- 
"geneous race. 

The first condition is that the races which are to 
interbreed shall not be too unequal in number ; the 


second, that their characters shall not be too dis- 
similar ; the third, that they shall be , subjected for 
a long period to identical conditions of environment. 

The first of the conditions that have just been 
enumerated is of capital importance. A small 
number of white men transported into the midst of 
a numerous negro population disappear, after a few 
generations, without leaving any trace of their blood 
among their descendants. All the conquerors who 
have invaded too numerous populations have dis- 
appeared in this way. They have been able, as has 
been done by the Latins in Gaul or the Arabs in 
Egypt, to leave behind them their civilisation, their 
arts and their language, but they have never been 
able to bequeath their blood. 

The second of the preceding conditions is also 
of very great importance. Doubtless very different 
races, the black and the white for example, may fuse, 
but the half-breeds that result constitute a population 
very inferior to those of which it is sprung, and utterly 
incapable of creating, or even of continuing, a civilisa- 
tion. The influence of contrary heredities saps their 
morality and character. When half-breeds, the off- 
spring of white men and negroes, have chanced to 
inherit a superior civilisation, as in Saint Domingo, 


civilisation has speedily been overtaken by the 
>t lamentable degeneration. Cross-breeding may 
be a source of improvement when it occurs between 
superior and sufficiently allied races, such as the 
English and the Germans of America, but it always 
constitutes an element of degeneration when the 
races, even though superior, are too different. 1 

To cross two peoples is to change simultaneously 
both their physical constitution and their mental con- 
stitution. Cross-breeding, moreover, constitutes the 
only infallible means at our disposal of transforming 
in a fundamental manner the character of people, 
heredity being the only force powerful enough to 
contend with heredity. Cross-breeding allows of the 
creation of a new race, possessing new physical and 
psychological characteristics. 

The characteristics thus created are at the outset 

1 All the countries inhabited by too large a proportion of half-breeds 
are, solely for this reason, given over to perpetual anarchy, unless they 
are ruled by an iron hand. Such will inevitably be the fate of Brazil. 
White men form only a third of its population. The remainder is 
composed of negroes and mulattoes. The famous Agassiz rightly 
observed "that it is sufficient to have visited Brazil for it to be im- 
possible to deny the decadence that results from cross-breeding which 
goes on in this country to a greater extent than elsewhere. This cross- 
breeding is fatal, he says, to the best qualities whether of the white 
man, the black, or the Indian, and produces an indescribable type 
whose physical and mental energy suffers." 


very weak and fluctuating. To fix them long, 
hereditary accumulations are necessary. The first 
effect of interbreeding between different races is to 
destroy the soul of the races, and by their soul we 
mean that congeries of common ideas and sentiments 
which make the strength of peoples, and without 
which there is no such thing as a nation or a father- 
land. The period of interbreeding is the critical 
period in the history of peoples, a period of com- 
mencement and hesitancy which all nations have had 
to traverse, for there is scarcely a European people 
that is not formed of the debris of other peoples. It is 
a period full of intestine struggles and of vicissitudes, 
and it continues so long as the new psychological 
characteristics are not fixed. 

What precedes shows that interbreeding should be 
considered at once as a fundamental element in the 
formation of new races and as a powerful factor in 
the dissolution of ancient races. It is with reason, 
then, that all the peoples that have reached a high 
degree of civilisation carefully avoid intermarrying 
with foreigners. Had it not been for the admirable 
regime of castes, the handful of Aryans that invaded 
India, some three thousand years ago, would have 
been quickly swamped by the immense masses of the 


dark-coloured populations that surrounded them on 
every side, and no civilisation would have come into 
existence on the soil of the great peninsula. If in 
modern times the English had not followed the 
same system, if they had consented to intermarry 
with the indigenous inhabitants, their gigantic Indian 
Empire would long since have slipped from their 
grasp. A people may sustain many losses, may be 
overtaken by many catastrophes, and yet recover from 
the ordeal, but it has lost everything, and is past 
recovery, when it has lost its soul. 

It is at the moment when decadent civilisations 
have become the prey of peaceful or warlike invaders 
that interbreeding fills in succession the destructive 
and then the creative role of which I have just spoken. 
Cross-breeding destroys an ancient civilisation because 
it destroys the soul of the people that possesses it. 
It fosters the creation of a new civilisation because 
the old psychological characteristics of the races 
in contact have been destroyed, and because new 
characteristics may be formed under the influence of 
the new conditions of existence. 

It is only on races in course of formation, and 
whose ancestral characteristics have been destroyed 
in consequence by contrary heredities, that the in- 


fluence can be effective of the last of the factors 
mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, the 
influence of environment. While very slight on 
ancient races, the influence of environment is, on the 
contrary, very great on new races. Cross-breeding, 
by destroying the ancestral, psychological charac- 
teristics, creates a sort of blank tablet on which the 
action of environment, continued during centuries, 
may succeed in impressing and finally in giving fixity 
to new psychological characteristics. Then, and 
then only, the formation of a new historical race 
results. It is in this way that the French race was 

The influence of environment physical or moral 
is in consequence very great or very slight according 
to circumstances, and this is the explanation of the 
contrary opinions that have been formulated with 
regard to its action. We have just seen that this 
influence is very great on races in course of formation ; 
but had we been considering ancient races solidly 
established by the long action of heredity, we could 
have said that the influence of environment is, on the 
contrary, almost inappreciable. 

As regards moral environment, we have proof of 
the insignificance of its action in the failure of our 


Western civilisations to influence the peoples of the 
East, even when these latter have been subjected to 
their contact during several generations ; the Chinese 
inhabitants of the United States are a case in point. 
The slight power of physical environment is shown 
by the difficulties that attend acclimatisation. Trans- 
ported into surroundings too different from those to 
which it is accustomed, an ancient race and the 
statement is equally applicable to men, animals, and 
plants perishes sooner than submit to transformation. 
Egypt has always been the tomb of the many different 
races that have effected its conquest. Not a single 
people has been able to acclimatise itself in the 
country. Neither Greeks, Romans, Persians, Arabs, 
nor Turks have been able to leave behind them a 
trace of their race. The only type that is met with 
is that of the impassible Fellah whose features 
exactly resemble those engraved seven thousand 
years ago on the tombs and palaces of the Pharaohs 
by the Egyptian artists. 

The majority of the historical races of Europe are 
still in course of formation, and it is important that it 
should be known that this is the case with a view to 
understanding their history. At the present day the 
Englishman is the only European who represents an 


almost completely fixed race. In his case the ancient 
Briton, the Saxon, and the Norman have given way 
to a new and highly homogeneous type. In France, 
on the contrary, the Provencal is very different from 
the Breton, the inhabitant of Auvergne from the 
inhabitant of Normandy. Still, if there does not exist 
as yet an average type of the Frenchman, there at 
least exist average types of certain regions. Un- 
fortunately these types are very distinct as regards 
their ideas and character. It is difficult in con- 
sequence to devise institutions which shall suit them 
all equally well, and it is only by dint of energetic 
concentration that it is possible to lend them some 
community of thought. Our profound divergences 
of sentiment and belief, and the political upheavals 
which result therefrom, are due, in the main, to 
differences of mental constitution, which the future 
alone will perhaps be able to efface. 

Such has always been the situation when different 
races have found themselves in contact. The dis- 
sentiments and intestine struggles have always been 
the more acute in proportion as the races in presence 
have been the more different. When they are too 
unlike it becomes absolutely impossible to make them 
live under the same institutions and the same laws. 


The history of great empires composed of different 
races has always been identical. Most often they 
disappear with their founder. Among modern 
nations, only the English and the Dutch have been 
successful in imposing their yoke on Asiatic peoples 
differing widely from them, and their success is solely 
due to the fact that they have respected the manners, 
customs, and laws of the peoples in question, leaving 
them in reality to govern themselves, and confining 
their role to appropriating a portion of the taxes, to 
engaging in commerce, and to maintaining peace. 

Apart from these rare exceptions, all the great 
empires composed of dissimilar peoples owe their 
foundation to force and are destined to perish by 
violence. To enable a nation to constitute itself and 
to endure, it is necessary that its formation should be 
slow, and the result of the gradual fusion of but 
slightly different races, interbreeding, living on the 
same soil, undergoing the action of the same environ 
ment, and having the same institutions and beliefs 
After the lapse of several centuries these distinct 
races may come to form a highly homogeneous 

As the world grows older, the races become more 
and more stable and their transformation by means 


of fusion rarer and rarer. As it advances in age, 
humanity feels the burden of heredity grow heavier, 
and transformations become more difficult. So far as 
Europe is concerned, it may be said that the era of 
the formation of historical races will soon be over. 







The elements of which a civilisation is composed are the exterior 
manifestations of the soul of the peoples, which have created them 

The importance of these various elements varies with the different 
peoples According to the several peoples it is the arts, literature, 
institutions, etc., that fill the fundamental role Examples from 
antiquity : the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans The evolution of 
the different elements of a civilisation may be independent of the 
general march of that civilisation Examples supplied by the arts 

What they express Impossibility of finding in a single element 
of a civilisation the measure of the level of that civilisation 
Elements which assure the superiority of a people Elements 
which philosophically are very inferior may be socially very 

"^HE different elements, languages, institutions, 
ideas, beliefs, arts, literature, of which a 

civilisation is composed should be regarded as the 



exterior manifestation of the soul of the men 
who have created them. The importance, however, 
of these elements as the expression of the soul of 
a people varies greatly with the period and the races. 

Few books relating to works of art appear at the 
present day that do not contain the statement that 
works of art are the faithful rendering of the thought 
of peoples and the most important expression of their 

Doubtless it is often true that this is the case, but 
the rule is a long way from being absolute, and the 
development of the arts is far from corresponding 
invariably to the intellectual development of nations. 
While there are certain peoples for whom works of 
art are the most important manifestation of their 
soul, there are others, who occupy, moreover, a high 
rank in the scale of civilisation, among whom the 
arts have played but a very secondary part. If the 
history of the civilisation of each people had to be 
written on the understanding that only one of its 
elements was to be considered, the element chosen 
ought to vary in the case of each people. For some 
peoples the element would be the arts, but for others 
it would be their institutions, their military organisa- 
tion, their industry, their commerce, etc., that would 


give us the best knowledge of them. It is important 
to establish this point at the outset, for it will enable 
us later to understand how it is that the various 
elements of a civilisation have undergone very un- 
equal transformations when transmitted from one 
people to another. 

Among the peoples of antiquity, the Egyptians and 
Romans offer highly characteristic examples of this 
inequality in the development of the various elements 
of a civilisation, and even in the various branches of 
which each of these elements is composed. 

Let us begin by considering the Egyptians. Their 
literature was always very weak, their painting of 
very poor quality. In architecture and statuary, on 
the contrary, they produced masterpieces. Their 
monuments still excite our admiration. The Egyptian 
statues that have come down to us, the Scribe, the 
Cheik-el-Beled, Rahotep, Nefert-Ari, and many others 
would still be models at the present day, and it was 
only during a very short period that they were sur- 
passed by the Greeks. 

With the Egyptians let us compare the Romans, 
whose role in history was so preponderating. They 
lacked neither educators nor models, since they came 
after the Egyptians and Greeks ; and yet they did 


not succeed in creating a personal art. No people, 
perhaps, has ever displayed less originality in its 
artistic productions. The Romans held the arts in 
very slight esteem, scarcely regarding them from 
other than a utilitarian point of view, and looking 
on them merely as a sort of imported article 
analogous to the other products, such as metals, 
aromatics, and spices for which they were indebted 
to foreign peoples. At the period when they were 
already masters of the world, the Romans had no 
national art, and even later on, when universal peace, 
wealth, and the needs of luxury somewhat developed 
their weak, artistic sentiments, it was always to 
Greece that they went for models and artists. The 
history of Roman architecture and sculpture is 
scarcely more than an appendix to the history of 
the sculpture and architecture of Greece. 

On the other hand this great Roman people, which 
was so inferior in the arts, developed three other 
elements of civilisation to the highest pitch. It 
possessed military institutions which insured it the 
empire of the world ; political and juridical institu- 
tions which still serve us as models ; and finally, 
it created a literature which for centuries has been 
the source of inspiration of our own. 


We thus have a striking example of the unequal 
development of the elements of a civilisation in the 
case of two nations whose high degree of culture 
cannot be contested, and we can divine the errors 
that would result from taking as sole standard but 
one of these elements the arts for example. We 
have just found that among the Egyptians the arts, 
with the exception of painting, were extremely 
original and remarkable, while literature, on the 
contrary, did not rise above mediocrity. Among 
the Romans the arts were mediocre and without a 
trace of originality, but they shone in the field of 
literature, and their military and political institutions 
were of the highest order. 

The Greeks themselves, though one of the peoples 
that has displayed the most superiority in the most 
different fields, may also be cited in proof of the 
unequal way in which the development of the various 
elements of a civilisation proceeds. At the Homeric 
epoch their literature was already very brilliant, since 
the songs of Homer are still regarded as the models 
with which the students of the European universities 
are condemned to saturate themselves ; a view that 
has been taken for centuries past. But the discoveries 
of modern archaeology have proved that, at the 


period to which the Homeric songs belong, Greek 
sculpture and architecture were grossly barbarian, 
and confined to crude imitations of Egyptian and 
Assyrian art. 

However, it is more especially the Hindoos that 
furnish us with an example of the unequal develop- 
ment of the different elements of a civilisation. As 
regards architecture they have been surpassed by 
very few peoples. As regards philosophy the depth 
of their speculations has only been attained to by 
European thought at a quite recent date. In litera- 
ture, if they do not reach the level of the Greeks 
and Latins, they have nevertheless produced ad- 
mirable work. Their statuary, on the contrary, is 
mediocre, and much below that of the Greeks. In 
the domain of science and in that of historical 
knowledge, they have absolutely nothing to show, 
and they exhibit an absence of precision that is not 
met with to an equal degree in any other people. 
Their sciences have been mere childish speculations ; 
their histories absurd legends, containing not a single 
exact date and probably not a single exact event. 
In their case, once again, the exclusive study of the 
arts would be insufficient to determine the level of 
their civilisation. 


Many other examples might be adduced in support 
of what precedes. There are races which, although 
they have never occupied an absolutely superior rank, 
have succeeded in creating an absolutely personal art 
bearing no visible relation to anterior models. The 
Arabs are a case in point. Less than a century after 
they had invaded the old Greco-Roman world, they 
had so utterly transformed the Byzantine archi- 
tecture they had begun by adopting, that it would 
be impossible to determine the types that had in- 
spired them, if it were not that we are still able to 
consult the series of intermediary monuments. 

Moreover, even if a people should not possess any 
artistic or literary aptitude, it is capable of creating 
a civilisation of a superior order. This happened in 
the case of the Phenicians, whose sole superiority was 
their skill in commerce. It was they who civilised 
the ancient world by bringing all its parts into 
communication ; but as far as they themselves were 
concerned they produced scarcely anything, and the 
history of their civilisation is the history of their 

Finally, there are peoples among whom all the 
lents of civilisation have remained in an inferior 
state with the exception of the arts. The Mongolians 


were a people of this kind. The monuments they 
raised in India, in a style about which there is scarcely 
anything Hindoo, are so magnificent that competent 
artists declare that some of them rank among the 
most beautiful monuments that have been raised by 
the hand of man ; and yet nobody could think of 
classing the Mongols among the superior races. 

It will be noticed, moreover, that even among the 
most civilised peoples, it is not always at the culmi- 
nating period of their civilisation that the arts attain 
to the highest degree of development. Among the 
Egyptians and among the Hindoos the most perfect 
monuments are generally the most ancient ; while in 
Europe, it was in the Middle Ages, an epoch regarded 
as semi-barbarian, that flourished that marvellous 
Gothic art whose admirable productions have never 
been equalled. 

In consequence it is quite impossible to judge of 
the level of a people solely by the development of 
its arts, which constitute, I repeat, but one of the 
elements of its civilisation, and an element whose 
superiority is not proven any more than the 
superiority of literature is proven. It often happens, 
on the contrary, that it is among the peoples at the 
head of civilisation the Romans, for instance, in 


ancient times and the Americans at the present day 
that artistic productions show the most weakness. 
Frequently too, as we just remarked, it has been 
in semi-barbarous ages that the peoples have pro- 
duced their literary and artistic masterpieces their 
artistic masterpieces more especially. It would even 
seem that the period of personality in the arts, in the 
case of a people, is a growth belonging to its child- 
hood or its youth and not to its maturity ; and if it 
be considered that, among the utilitarian preoccu- 
pations of the new world of which we catch a glimpse 
of the dawn, the role of the arts is scarcely observable, 
we may foresee the day when they will be classed if 
not among the inferior, at least among the quite 
secondary manifestations of a civilisation. 

There are many reasons why the progress of the 
arts in their evolution should not be parallel to that 
of the other elements of a civilisation, and should not 
in consequence be always a sure indication of the 
state of this civilisation. Whether in the case of 
Egypt, of Greece, or of the various European peoples, 
we observe this general law that as soon as art has 
reached a certain level, as soon that is as certain 
masterpieces have been produced, there immediately 
commences a period of decadence entirely independent 


of the movement of the other elements of the 
civilisation. This decadent phase of the arts subsists 
until a political revolution, an invasion, the adoption 
of new beliefs or any other factor introduces new 
elements into art. It was in this way that in the 
Middle Ages the Crusades were the source of fresh 
knowledge and new ideas, which gave an impulsion 
to art that resulted in the transformation of the 
Roman style into the Gothic style. It was in this 
way again that, several centuries later, the revival 
of Greek and Latin studies brought about the 
transformation of Gothic art into the art of the 
Renaissance. In India, too, the Mussulman invasions 
caused the transformation of Hindoo art in precisely 
the same fashion. 

It is also of importance to observe, that since the 
arts express in general fashion certain of the needs 
of civilisation and correspond to certain sentiments, 
they are fated to undergo transformations in con- 
formity with these needs, and even to disappear 
entirely if the needs and the sentiments which have 
given birth to them should themselves be transformed 
or disappear. It will in nowise follow, however, that 
the civilisation is on this account in decadence, and 
here once more we are confronted with the absence 


of parallelism between the evolution of the arts and 
that of the other elements of a civilisation. At no 
period in history has civilisation been at so high a 
pitch as at the present day, and at no period perhaps 
has art been more commonplace and less personal. 
The religious beliefs, the ideas and the needs which 
made art an essential element of civilisation at the 
periods when it had temples and palaces for its 
sanctuaries having disappeared, art has become an 
accessory, an instrument of pleasure to which it is 
not possible to devote either much time or much 
money. Being no longer a necessity, it can scarcely 
escape being artificial and imitative. At the present 
day there are no longer peoples who possess a national 
art, and each people, in architecture as in sculpture, 
lives on more or less happy copies of the work of 
bygone epochs. 

These modest copies doubtless represent needs or 
caprices, but it is clear that it is impossible that they 
should express our modern ideas. I admire the nai've 
works of our artists of the Middle Ages, as seen in 
their paintings of saints, of Christ, of Paradise and 
Hell, all of which were of fundamental importance 
at the time and the principal concern of existence; 
but when painters who no longer entertain these 


beliefs cover our walls with primitive legends or 
childish symbols in an attempt to return to the 
technique of another age, they merely produce 
wretched imitations without interest for the present 
and destined to arouse contempt in the future. 

The only real arts, the only arts which are the 
expression of an epoch, are those in which the artist 
represents what he feels or what he sees instead of 
confining himself to the imitation of forms corre- 
sponding to needs or beliefs we have ceased to possess. 
The only sincere painting of the present day is that 
which reproduces the things by which we are sur- 
rounded, just as the only sincere architecture is that 
of the five-storied house, the viaduct, and the railway 
station. This utilitarian art corresponds to the needs 
and ideas of our civilisation. It is as characteristic 
of the epoch as were formerly the Gothic church and 
the feudal castle. For the archaeologist of the future 
the great modern caravansaries and the old Gothic 
churches will be of equal interest because they will be 
successive pages in those books of stone which each 
century leaves behind it, while he will disdain as 
useless documents the sorry counterfeit copies of so 
many modern artists. 

Every aesthetic system represents the ideal of an 


epoch and of a race, and for the sole reason that 
epochs and races are different, the ideal must con- 
stantly be varying. From the philosophic point of 
view all ideals are of equal worth, for they constitute 
more transitory symbols. 

The arts then, like all the elements of a civilisation, 
are the exterior manifestation of the soul of the people 
that has created them ; but we ought to recognise, 
however, that they are far from constituting in the 
case of all peoples the most exact manifestation of 
their thought. 

This demonstration was necessary. For the im- 
portance in the case of a given people of a given 
element of civilisation is a measure of the power of 
transformation which that people brings to bear on 
the element in question when it borrows it from a 
foreign race. If its personality displays itself more 
especially in the arts, for example, its reproductions 
of imported models are sure to be deeply marked by 
its own imprint. On the contrary it will transform 
but very slightly the elements that are incapable of 
serving to interpret its genius. When the Romans 
adopted the architecture of Greece they did not 
make it the object of radical modifications, because 
they did not put what was most characteristic of their 
soul into their monuments. 


Still, even in the case of such a people as the 
Romans, who were without a personal architecture, 
and who were constrained to go to the foreigner 
for their models and their artists, art is obliged 
in the course of but few centuries to undergo the 
influence of environment and to become, almost in 
spite of itself, the expression of the race that has 
adopted it. The temples, palaces, triumphal arches, 
and bas-reliefs of ancient Rome are the work of 
Greeks or of pupils of the Greeks ; and yet the 
character of these monuments, their destination, 
their ornaments, even their dimensions, do not 
arouse in us the delicate, poetic memories of the 
Athenian genius, but rather the ideas of force, of 
domination, and of military passion with which the 
mighty soul of Rome was imbued. Thus, even in 
the field in which it shows itself least personal, a 
race can accomplish nothing that does not bear some 
trace of the fact that it was due to its initiative, and 
without revealing something of its mental constitution 
and innermost thought. 

The explanation is that the true artist, whether 
architect or poet, possesses the magic faculty of 
expressing in his syntheses the soul of an epoch and 
of a race. Very impressionable, very unconscious, 


thinking more especially in images, and reasoning 
but little, artists are at certain epochs the faithful 
mirrors of the society in which they live ; their 
works are the most exact documents to which 
recourse can be had with a view to evoking a 
vanished civilisation. They are too unconscious not 
to be sincere, and too impressed by their surround- 
ings not to give faithful expression to the ideas, 
sentiments, needs and tendencies of their environ- 
ment. They are not free to create what they choose, 
and the fact constitutes their strength. They are 
imprisoned in a network of traditions, ideas, and 
beliefs, the sum total of which constitutes the soul of 
a race and an epoch, the inheritance of sentiments, 
thoughts, and inspirations, whose influence is all 
powerful over them because it governs the obscure 
regions of the unconscious in which their works are 
elaborated. Were we without these works, and did 
we know nothing of the vanished centuries but what 
is related of them in the absurd narratives and arti- 
ficial arrangements of the books of history, the real 
past of each people would be almost as great an 
enigma to us as that of the mysterious Atlantiades 
submerged, according to Plato, by the waters. 

The essential characteristic, then, of the work of 


art is to be the sincere expression of the needs and 
ideas of the age that gives it birth. Of all the 
various languages which relate the story of the past, 
works of art, those of architecture in particular, are 
the most intelligible. More sincere than books, less 
artificial than religions and languages, they express 
both the sentiments and the needs of their period. 
The architect builds the dwelling-places of men and 
those of the gods, and it was always within the 
precincts of the temple or those of the house that 
were elaborated the first causes of the events which 
constitute history. 

We may conclude from what precedes, that while 
the various elements of which a civilisation is com- 
posed are indeed the expression of the soul of the 
people that has created them, certain of these 
elements though which of them varies with the 
races and also with the epochs in the case of the 
same race are a more exact expression of the soul 
of a race than others. 

Since, however, the nature of these elements varies 
with the different peoples and the different epochs, 
it is evident that it is impossible to find a single 
element capable of serving as a common standard 
whereby to gauge the level of the different civilisations. 


It is also evident that a hierarchical classification 
cannot be established among these elements, for the 
classification would vary from century to century, 
the importance of the elements considered varying 
itself with the periods. 

If the value of the diverse elements of a civilisation 
were to be judged solely from the point of view of pure 
utility, it might be affirmed that the most important 
elements of a civilisation are those which allow one 
people to subject another, that is to say military 
institutions. But if this test were adopted, it would 
be necessary to rank the Greeks, a nation of artists, 
philosophers, and writers, after the Romans with 
their invincible cohorts, the virtuous and learned 
Egyptians after the semi-barbarian Persians, and the 
Hindoos after the Mongols who were also semi- 

History is but little concerned with these subtle dis- 
tinctions. The only superiority before which it always 
bows is military superiority, which is very rarely 
accompanied by a corresponding superiority in the 
other elements of civilisation, or at least does not 
long allow the maintenance at its side of this latter 
superiority. Unfortunately military superiority 
cannot decline among a people without that people 


being fated to disappear. It has always been when 
they had reached the apogee of civilisation, that the 
superior peoples have had to retire before barbarians, 
much their inferiors as regards intelligence, but posses- 
sing certain qualities of character and warlike aptitudes 
to which too refined civilisations have always been fatal. 
It is necessary, in consequence, to arrive at the 
saddening conclusion that it is the elements which, 
philosophically speaking, are inferior, that are the 
most important from the social point of view. If 
the laws of the future are to be those of the past, it 
may be said that to have attained to too high a 
degree of intelligence and culture is what is most 
harmful to a people. Peoples perish as soon as the 
qualities of character which form the groundwork of 
their soul begin to decline, and these qualities decline 
as soon as the civilisation and intelligence of a people 
reach a high level. 



The superior races are as powerless as the inferior races to transform 
suddenly the elements of their civilisation Contradictions pre- 
sented by the peoples which have changed their religions, lan- 
guages, and arts The example of Japan In what respect these 
changes are only apparent The profound transformations under- 
gone by Buddhism, Brahmanism, Mahometanism and Christianity 
according to the various races by which they have been adopted 
The variations undergone by institutions and languages according 
to the race that adopts them That the words which in different 
languages are considered to correspond represent very dissimilar 
ideas and modes of thought Impossibility for this reason of 
translating certain languages Why, in books of history, the 
civilisation of a people sometimes seems'... to have undergone pro- 
found changes Limits of the reciprocal influence of different 

"\ ~\ 7 E have shown in a previous book that the 
* * superior races are wholly unable to induce 
inferior races to accept their civilisation or to thrust 
it on them. Taking one by one the most powerful 
means of action at the disposal of Europeans 
education, institutions, beliefs we have proved their 

absolute inefficacy as means of changing the social 

7 si 


state of the inferior peoples. We have endeavoured 
to establish, that since all the elements of a civili- 
sation correspond to a certain well-defined mental 
constitution created by heredity in the course of a 
long past, it is impossible to modify them without 
changing the mental constitution of which they are 
the outcome. Such a task is beyond the power of 
conquerors, and can only be accomplished by the 
lapse of centuries. We have also shown that it is 
only by a series of successive stages, analogous to 
those traversed by the barbarians who destroyed the 
Greco-Roman civilisation, that a people can rise in 
the scale of civilisation. If it be sought, by means of 
education, to spare a people these stages, all that is 
done is to disorganise its morality and its intelli- 
gence, and to reduce it in the end to a level inferior to 
that it would have reached if it had been left to itself. 
The arguments we have applied to inferior races 
are equally applicable to superior races. If the 
principles we have set forth in this work are correct, 
it ought to be clear that the superior races are also 
incapable of suddenly transforming their civilisation. 
They, too, require time, and need to traverse suc- 
cessive stages. If the superior peoples seem at times 
to have adopted beliefs, institutions, languages and 


arts differing from those of their ancestors, they have 
done so in reality only after having slowly and 
profoundly transformed them so as to bring them 
into touch with their mental constitution. 

History appears to contradict on every page the 
preceding proposition. It offers us frequent ex- 
amples of peoples changing the elements of their 
civilisation, adopting new religions, new languages, 
new institutions. Some peoples abandon the beliefs 
they have held for centuries and are converted to 
Christianity, Buddhism or Mahometanism : others 
transform their language ; yet others radically 
modify their institutions and their arts. It even 
seems that it rests with a conqueror or an apostle to 
provoke such transformations, or even that they 
result from a mere caprice. 

History, however, in offering these accounts of 
sudden revolutions does no more than accomplish one 
of its habitual missions : the creation and propagation 
of enduring errors. When these alleged changes are 
closely studied, it is soon perceived that it is only the 
names of things that easily vary, whereas the realities 
hidden behind the words continue to exist and are 
only transformed with exceeding slowness. 

To prove this assertion, and to show at the same 


time how the slow evolution of things goes on 
behind denominations that remain unchanged, it 
would be necessary to study the elements of each 
civilisation in the case of the different peoples, that 
is to re-write their history. I have already essayed 
this laborious task in several volumes ; it will not be 
asked, in consequence, that I should again attempt it 
here. Leaving aside the numerous elements of 
which a civilisation is composed, I shall choose but 
one of them as an example : the arts. 

Before approaching, however, in a special chapter, 
the study of the evolution accomplished by the arts 
in passing from one people to another, I shall make a 
few remarks respecting the changes undergone by 
the other elements of civilisation, in order to show 
that the laws applicable to one of these elements are 
perfectly applicable to all of them, and that if the 
arts of the different peoples correspond to a certain 
mental constitution, as much is to be said of their 
languages, institutions, beliefs, etc., which in conse- 
quence cannot change suddenly and pass indifferently 
from one people to another. 1 

1 I shall not deal here with the case of Japan, having already treated 
it elsewhere, while I shall certainly return to it on a future occasion. 
It would be impossible to study in a few pages a question on the 
subject of which eminent statesmen are the victims of delusions which 


It is more especially in connection with religious 
beliefs that this theory may appear paradoxical, and 
yet it is precisely in the history of these very 
beliefs that the best examples are to be found in 
proof that it is as impossible for a people suddenly 
to change the elements of its civilisation, as for an 
individual to alter his stature or the colour of his 

Nobody, doubtless, is ignorant that all the great 
religions, Brahmanism, Buddhism, Christianity, or 
Mahometanism, have provoked conversions en masse 
among entire races who have seemed to adopt them 
on a sudden ; however, when a closer study is made 
of these conversions it is soon observed that what 
the peoples have more especially changed is the 
name of their old religion and not their religion 
itself, and that in reality the adopted beliefs have 
undergone the transformations necessary to bring 

are shared unfortunately by certain philosophers wanting in insight. 
The prestige adhering to military triumphs, even though achieved at 
the expense of mere barbarians, still remains for many minds the 
criterion of the level of a civilisation. It is possible to drill an army 
of negroes in accordance with European military principles and to 
teach them to handle rifles and canon, but their mental inferiority and 
the consequences it involves will not be modified on this account. The 
varnish of European civilisation boasted at present by Japan in nowise 
corresponds to the mental condition of the race. It is a trumpery 
borrowed garment which will soon be rent by violent revolutions. 


them into touch with the old beliefs they have 
replaced, and of which in reality they are a mere 

The transformations undergone by beliefs in pass- 
ing from one people to another are often indeed so 
considerable, that the newly adopted religion has no 
longer any visible relationship with that of which it 
has kept the n'ame. The best example is offered us 
by Buddhism, which, after having been transported 
into China, has become so unrecognisable that the 
learned took it at first to be an independent religion 
and were a long time before they recognised that 
this religion was merely Buddhism transformed by 
the race that had adopted it. Chinese Buddhism is 
in no sort the Buddhism of India, itself very different 
from the Buddhism of Nepaul, which in turn is 
sufficiently distinct from the Buddhism of Ceylon. 
In India, Buddhism was a schism from Brahmanism 
which preceded it, and from which at bottom it 
differed to no very great extent ; in China, it was also a 
schism from earlier beliefs to which it is closely related. 

The rigorous proof that is possible in the case of 
Buddhism is forthcoming as well in that of Brah- 
manism. The races of India being extremely 
varied, it was easy to presume that, under identical 


names, they would have extremely different religious 
beliefs. Doubtless all the Brahmanic peoples regard 
Vishnou and Siva as their principal divinities and the 
Vedas as their sacred books ; but of these funda- 
mental gods the religion has retained but the name, 
and of the sacred books but the text. Around these 
central and common features have grown up inumer- 
able cults in which are found, according to the races, 
the most varied beliefs : monotheism, polytheism, 
fetichism, pantheism, the worship of ancestors, of 
demons, of animals, etc. Were the religions of 
India to be judged solely by what is found concern- 
ing them in the Vedas, not the least idea would be 
obtained of the gods and beliefs of the immense 
peninsula. The title of the sacred books is vene- 
rated by all the Brahmans, but there survives in 
general nothing of the religion taught by these 

Islamism itself, in spite of the simplicity of its 
monotheism, has not evaded this law ; it is a far cry 
from the Islamism of Persia to that of Arabia and 
that of India. The Hindoo, essentially a polytheist, 
has contrived to render polytheistic the most mono- 
theistic of beliefs. For the fifty millions of Hindoo 
Mahometans, Mahomet and the saints of Islam are 


scarcely more than new gods added to thousands of 
others. Islamism has ever been unable to establish 
in India that equality of all men which elsewhere 
was one of the causes of its success. The Mussulmans 
of India, like the other Hindoos, practise the system 
of castes. In the Deccan, among the Dravidian 
populations, Islamism has become so unrecognisable 
that it can scarcely be distinguished from Brahmanism; 
indeed it would not be distinguished from it at all 
but for the name of Mahomet, and for the mosque 
where the prophet, become a god, is worshipped. 

It is not necessary to go as far as India to observe 
the profound modifications undergone by Islamism 
in passing from one race to another. It suffices to 
consider our great possession, Algeria. It contains 
two very different races : Arabs and Berbers, both 
of them Mussulmans. The Islamism of the former 
is far removed from that of the latter ; the polygamy 
of the Koran has become monogamy among the 
Berbers, whose religion is scarcely more than a fusion 
between Islamism and the old paganism practised 
by the race since the distant ages of Carthaginian 

The religions of Europe themselves are not excepted 
from the common law which obliges beliefs to under- 


go a transformation in accordance with the soul of 
the races by which they are adopted. As in India, 
the letter of the dogmas fixed by the texts has 
remained invariable ; but these dogmas are vain 
formulae of which each race interprets the meaning 
after its own fashion. Under the uniform denomina- 
tion of Christians are found in Europe veritable 
pagans, such as the Bas-Breton who worships idols ; 
fetichists, such as the Spaniard who adores amulets ; 
polytheists, such as the Italian who venerates as 
very different divinities the madonnas of each village. 
Were this study to be prosecuted further, it would 
be easy to show that the great religious schism of 
the Reformation was the necessary consequence of 
the interpretation of one and the same religious book 
by different races : those of the North, wishing to 
discuss their belief, regulate their life themselves, and 
those of the South having remained far behind from 
the point of view of independence and the philosophic 
spirit. No example would be more convincing. 

These are facts, however, the development of which 
would lead us beyond our scope. We shall have to 
deal still more briefly with the two other fundamental 
elements of civilisation, institutions and languages, 
because it would be necessary to enter into technical 


details that wholly surpass the limits of this work. 
What is true in the case of beliefs, is equally true in 
that of institutions ; these latter cannot be transmitted 
from one people to another without undergoing 
transformation. Not wishing to multiply examples, 
I beg the reader merely to consider how greatly, in 
modern times, the same institutions, imposed by force 
or persuasion on different races, have been transformed, 
though retaining identical names. I shall demonstrate 
the fact in a forthcoming chapter in connection with 
the different regions of America. 

Institutions are the outcome in reality of necessities 
on which the will of a single generation of men can 
have no action. For each race, and for each phase 
of the evolution of that race, there are conditions of 
existence, sentiments, thoughts, opinions, hereditary 
influences which imply certain institutions and do 
not imply others. The label a Government bears 
is of very slight importance. It has never been 
accorded a people to choose the institutions which 
appear to it to be the best. Should some rare stroke 
of chance allow a people to choose its institutions, it 
will be unable to keep them. The numerous revolu- 
tions, the successive changes of constitution, affected 
by the French during the last hundred years con- 


stitute an experience which should long since have 
settled the opinion of statesmen on this point. I 
believe, moreover, that it is scarcely elsewhere than 
in the obtuse brain of the masses and the narrow 
minds of some few fanatics that the idea can persist 
that important social changes are to be brought about 
by legislative acts. The only useful role of institutions 
is to give legal sanction to changes which manners 
and public opinion have ended by accepting. Insti- 
tutions are moulded by these changes, but they are 
not in advance of them. The character and thought 
of men are not to be modified by institutions. It is 
not by institutions that a people is rendered religious 
or sceptical, or that it is taught to conduct its own 
affairs without incessantly demanding of the State 
that it shall forge it a chain. 

I shall not dwell on the question of languages any 
more than on that of institutions, and shall confine 
myself to drawing attention to the fact that even 
where a language is fixed by writing, it is necessarily 
transformed in passing from one people to another, 
a truth that renders so absurd the idea of an universal 
language. Doubtless the Gauls, in spite of their 
immense numerical superiority, had adopted the Latin 
language less than two centuries after their conquest, 


but they were quick to bring the newly adopted 
tongue into harmony with their needs, and the logic 
peculiar to their bent of mind. Modern French is 
the final result of these transformations. 

It is impossible for different races to speak the 
same language for any length of time. The chances 
of conquest, the interests of its commerce may doubt- 
less bring a people to adopt another language in the 
place of its mother tongue, but after the lapse of a 
few generations the language adopted will have been 
entirely transformed. The transformation will be 
the more thorough in proportion as the race from 
which the language has been borrowed is the more 
different from that which has borrowed it. 

Dissimilar languages are always certain to be met 
with in countries inhabited by different races. India 
affords an excellent example in point. The great 
peninsula being inhabited by numerous different races, 
it is not astonishing that two hundred and forty 
languages should, according to the linguistic author- 
ities, be spoken in it, some of them differing more 
from each other than do French and Greek. These 
two hundred and forty languages do not include some 
three hundred dialects ! The widest spread among 
these languages is quite modern, since it has only 


existed for three centuries ; it is Hindustanee, a 
language formed by a combination of the Persian 
and Arabian spoken by the Mussulman conquerors 
and Hindi, one of the principal tongues of the invaded 
regions. Conquerors and conquered soon forgot their 
primitive language, exchanging it for a new language 
adapted to the needs of the new race produced by 
the interbreeding of the various peoples brought 

I cannot dwell longer on the matter, and am 
obliged to confine myself to indicating the funda- 
mental ideas. Were I able to enter into the necessary 
developments, I would go further and would say that 
where peoples are different, the words considered 
among them as corresponding represent modes of 
thinking and feeling so far apart, that in reality their 
languages have no synonyms, and real translation 
from one language into the other is impossible. How 
wholly this is the case will be understood by observing 
how in the same country, and among the same race, 
the same word corresponds in the course of centuries 
to quite dissimilar ideas. 

Old words represent the ideas of the men of the 
past. Words which at their origin were the signs of 
real things soon have their meaning altered in conse- 


quence of changes in ideas, manners, and customs. 
Recourse is still had to these timeworn signs, for it 
would be too difficult to change them, but there is 
no correspondence between what they represented 
at a given moment, and what they signify at the 
present day. In the case of peoples at a great 
distance from us, and whose civilisations were without 
analogy with our own, translations can only give 
words absolutely deprived of their real primitive sense, 
words, that is, evoking ideas in our mind which have 
no relation to those they formerly evoked. This 
phenomenon is specially striking in connection with 
the ancient languages of India. The ideas of the 
Indian people are indistinct, their logic has no rela- 
tionship with our own, and their words have never 
had that precise and definite meaning which the 
lapse of centuries and the turn of our minds has 
ended by giving words in Europe. There are books, 
the Vedas for example, the translation of which, 
though it has been vainly attempted, is impossible. 1 
It is difficult enough to penetrate the thought of the 

1 Talking of the numerous attempts to translate the Vedas, an 
eminent Indian scholar, Mr. Earth, remarks: "All these various and 
at times so contradictory investigations have one result ; they demon- 
strate how impossible it is for us to make a translation, in the true 
sense of the word, of the Vedas." 


individuals with whom we live, but from whom we 
are separated by certain differences of age, sex, and 
education ; to penetrate the thought of races on 
whom the dust of centuries has accumulated is a 
task no scholar will ever succeed in accomplishing. 
All the learning it is possible to acquire merely serves 
to show the complete uselessness of attempts of the 

Brief and slightly developed though the preceding 
examples be, they suffice to show how profound are 
the transformations peoples effect in the elements of 
civilisation they borrow. The importance of the 
elements borrowed often appears to be considerable, 
because the change in names is in fact sudden ; this 
importance is in reality very slight. In the course 
of centuries, thanks to the slow labours of generations 
and in consequence of successive additions, the 
borrowed element ends by differing greatly from the 
element of which it originally took the place. His- 
tory, which takes note more especially of appearances, 
pays but little attention to these successive variations, 
and when it tells us, for example, that a people 
adopted a new religion, what we at once represent 
to ourselves is not at all the beliefs really adopted, but 
the religion such as we know it at the present day. 


It is necessary to study these slow adaptations with 
the utmost closeness, in order to understand their 
genesis, and to detect the differences that separate 
words from realities. 

The history of civilisations is thus composed of slow 
adaptations, of slight successive transformations. If 
these latter appear to us to be sudden and consider- 
able, it is because, as in geology, we suppress the 
intermediate phases and only consider the extreme 

In reality, however intelligent and gifted a people 
be supposed to be, its capacity for absorbing a new 
element of civilisation is always very restricted. The 
brain cells do not assimilate in a day what it has 
taken centuries to create, and what is adapted to the 
sentiments and needs of organisms that differ from 
one another. Only slow hereditary accumulations 
allow of such assimilations. Further on, when we 
come to study the evolutions of the arts among the 
most intelligent of the peoples of antiquity, the 
Greeks, we shall see that many centuries were neces- 
sary before the rude copies of Assyrian and Egyptian 
models were left behind, and, after long successive 
stages, those masterpieces were produced which are 
still the admiration of humanity 


It must also be observed that all the peoples which 
have succeeded one another in history with the 
exception of a few primitive peoples such as the 
Egyptians and Chaldeans have had little to assimi- 
late beyond the elements of civilisation which consti- 
tute the inheritance of the past ; elements they have 
transformed in accordance with their mental consti- 
tution. The development of the world's civilisations 
would have been infinitely slower, and the history of 
the various peoples would have been one eternal 
recommencement, if they had been unable to profit 
by the materials elaborated before their time. The 
civilisations created some seven or eight thousand 
years ago, by the inhabitants of Egypt and Chaldaea, 
have served as a store of materials to which all the 
nations have had recourse in turn. The arts of 
Greece owe their origin to the arts created on the 
banks of the Tigris and the Nile. The Grecian style 
gave birth to the Roman style which, under the action 
of Oriental influences, has given birth to the Byzantine, 
Roman, and Gothic styles, styles which vary accord- 
ing to the genius and age of the peoples among 
whom they flourished, but styles that have a common 

What we have just said in connection with the arts 


is applicable to all the elements of a civilisation : 
institutions, languages, and beliefs. The European 
languages are derived from a mother-tongue which 
was spoken in the past on the central plateau of 
Asia. French law is an offshoot of Roman law, 
itself the offshoot of earlier codes of law. The Jewish 
religion proceeds directly from the Chaldaean beliefs. 
Associated with Aryan beliefs it has become the 
great religion which for nearly two thousand years 
has exerted its sway over the Western peoples. Our 
sciences themselves would not be what they are were 
it not for the slow labour of centuries. The great 
founders of modern astronomy, Copernicus, Kepler, 
and Newton, are the lineal descendants of Ptolemy, 
whose books retained their influence down to the 
fifteenth century, while Ptolemy descends, through 
the Alexandrian school, from the astronomers of 
Egypt and Chaldsea. We thus get a glimpse, in 
spite of the formidable gaps of which history is full, 
of a slow evolution of our knowlege which takes us 
back through the successive ages and empires to the 
dawn of those ancient civilisations, which modern 
science is attempting to link with the primitive times 
when humanity had no history. But if the source is 
common, the transformations progressive or regres- 


sive which each people effects, according to its 
mental constitution, in the elements it borrows are 
very varied ; and it is the history of these transforma- 
tions that constitutes the history of civilisation. 

We have just seen that the fundamental elements 
of which a civilisation is composed are peculiar to 
each people, that they are the result, the expression 
of its mental structure, and that in consequence they 
cannot pass from one race to another without under- 
going the most profound changes. We have also 
seen that the extent of these changes is marked on 
the one hand by linguistic necessities which oblige 
us to employ the same words to designate very 
different things, and on the other hand by historical 
necessities which lead us to take into account only 
the extreme forms of a civilisation, and to neglect 
the intermediary forms by which they are connected. 
When studying, in the next chapter, the general laws 
of the evolution of the arts, we shall be able to show 
with still greater precision the succession of the 
changes which take place in the fundamental elements 
of a civilisation when they pass from one people to 



Application of the principles already set forth to the study of the evolu- 
tion of the arts among the Oriental peoples Egypt The religious 
ideas from which its arts are derived Developments that await its 
arts when they are transplanted amid different races : Ethiopians, 
Greeks, and Persians Primitive inferiority of Grecian art Slow- 
ness of its evolution Adoption and evolution in Persia of Grecian 
art, Egyptian art, and Assyrian art The transformations under- 
gone by the arts depend on the race and not on religious beliefs 
Examples supplied by the great transformations undergone by 
Arabian art according to the races which have adopted Islamism 
Application of our principles to the investigation of the origin 
and evolution of the arts in India India and Greece went to the 
same sources, but in consequence of the diversity of the races they 
developed arts having no relationship Immense transformations 
undergone by architecture in India among the different races in 
spite of the similarity of their beliefs. 

IN examining the relations between the mental 
constitution of a people, its institutions, its 
beliefs, and its language, I have had to confine 
myself to brief indications. To elucidate such sub- 
jects, it would be necessary to pile up volumes. 

In the case of the arts, a clear and precise state- 


ment is infinitely easier. Institutions and beliefs are 
matters whose definition is doubtful, whose interpreta- 
tion is obscure. The reality, which changes with 
every epoch, has to be searched for in the ancient 
texts in which it lies concealed, and laborious argu- 
mentation and criticism must be resorted to in order 
to arrive at conclusions which, at the finish, are open 
to discussion. Works of art, and in particular monu- 
ments, are very definite objects, and easy of interpre- 
tation. The books of stone are the most luminous of 
books, the only books that never lie, and it is for this 
reason that I have given them a preponderant place 
in my works on the history of the civilisations of the 
East. I have always held literary documents in the 
utmost suspicion. They are often deceptive and they 
rarely instruct. The monument rarely deceives and 
is always instructive. The monument is the best 
guardian of the thought of vanished peoples, and the 
mental blindness is to be pitied of the specialists who 
concern themselves solely with the inscriptions it 
may bear. 

Let us now proceed to study in what respect arts 
are the expression of the mental constitution of a 
people, and what are the transformations they under- 
go in passing from one civilisation to another. 


In this inquiry, I shall consider only the Eastern 
arts. The genesis and the transformation of the 
European arts have been subjected to identical laws ; 
but to follow their evolution among the various races 
it would be necessary to enter into details which would 
be beyond the very restricted scope of this work. 

Let us take, to begin with, the arts of Egypt, and 
examine the destiny that awaited them among three 
different races among which they were successively 
transplanted : the negroes of Ethiopia, the Greeks, 
and the Persians. 

Of all the civilisations that have flourished on the 
globe, that of Egypt has found the most complete 
expression in the arts. It is expressed therein with 
such force and clearness that the artistic types that 
saw the light on the banks of the Nile could only be 
suitable to the Egyptians, and were not adopted by 
other peoples until they had been considerably trans- 

The Egyptian arts, and more especially the Egyp- 
tian architecture, were the outcome of an ideal, 
peculiar to the race, which for fifty centuries was the 
constant pre-occupation of an entire people. The 
dream of the Egyptians was to create for man an 
imperishable dwelling in contrast with his ephemeral 


existence. This race, unlike, in this respect, to all other 
races, despised life, and courted death. What inte- 
rested it more than anything else was the motionless 
mummy which, its eyes of enamel incrusted in its 
golden mask, gazed eternally, from the depths of its 
gloomy resting place, on mysterious hieroglyphics. 
Guarded in its sepulchral dwelling, vast as a palace, 
against all profanation, the mummy was surrounded 
on the painted and sculptured walls of endless 
corridors by all that had charmed it during its brief 
terrestial existence. 

Egyptian architecture is more especially a funereal 
and religious architecture, having more or less for its 
object the mummy and the Gods. For them it is 
that the subterranean vaults were excavated, that the 
obelisks, the pylones, and the pyramids were raised, 
and for them that the pensive giants reclined on 
their thrones of stone in a pose so majestic and so 

Everything about this architecture is stable and 
massive because it aimed at being eternal. If the 
Egyptians were the only people ot antiquity with 
which we were acquainted, it could indeed be said 
that art is the most faithful expression of the soul 
of the race of which it is the creation. 


Peoples differing widely from one another the 
Ethiopians, an ^inferior race ; the Greeks and the 
Persians, superior races have borrowed their arts 
either from Egypt alone, or from Egypt and Assyria. 
Let us see what they became in their hands. 

Let us deal, to begin with, with the inferior people 
we have just mentioned with the Ethiopians. 

It is known that at a late period in Egyptian 
history (that of the twenty-fourth dynasty), the 
peoples of the Soudan, taking advantage of the 
anarchy and decadence of Egypt, seized some of 
its provinces and founded a kingdom which, having 
Napata and Meroe successively for its capital, main- 
tained its independence for several centuries. Dazzled 
by the civilisation of the vanquished people, they 
endeavoured to copy their monuments and arts ; but 
these copies, of which we possess specimens, are for 
the most part but very rude efforts. These negroes 
were barbarians, condemned by their mental inferiority 
never to shake off their barbarism : and in spite of the 
civilising influence of the Egyptians, it is a fact that 
they never did shake it off. There is no example in 
ancient or modern history of a negro people having 
reached a certain level of civilisation ; and on every 
occasion when a superior civilisation, by one of 


those accidents which in ancient times occurred in 
Ethiopia, and in modern times in Haiti, has fallen 
into the hands of the negro race, this civilisation 
has speedily reverted to wretchedly inferior forms. 

Under a very different latitude, another race, also 
barbarian at the time, but a white race, that of the 
Greeks, borrowed from Egypt and Assyria the first 
models of its arts and confined itself at first to 
making crude copies. The artistic productions of 
these two great civilisations were furnished the 
Greeks by the Phoenicians, who were masters of the 
sea routes that connect the shores of the Mediter- 
ranean, and by the peoples of Asia Minor, the masters 
of the land routes that lead to Nineveh and Babylon. 

Everbody is aware how immeasurably the Greeks 
surpassed their models in the end. The discoveries 
of modern archaeology have shown, however, how 
rude were their first attempts, and that they required 
centuries before they came to produce the master- 
pieces which have made them immortal. The Greeks 
devoted some seven hundred years to this difficult 
task of converting a foreign art into a personal and 
superior art ; but the progress realised during the 
last century is more considerable than that effected 
during all the preceding ages. It is not the superior 


stages of civilisation, but the inferior stages that a 
people finds the most difficulty in surmounting. The 
most ancient productions of Greek art, those discovered 
at Mycenae and belonging to the twelfth century before 
our era, point to entirely barbarian efforts, and are 
rude copies of Oriental objects ; six centuries later 
Greek art is still very Oriental ; the Apollo of Tenea 
and the Apollo of Orchomenes bear a singular resem- 
blance to the Egyptian statues ; but the progress now 
becomes very rapid, and, a century later, we reach 
Phidias and the marvellous statues of the Parthenon 
that is to say, an art that has thrown off the influence 
of the East, while it is very superior to the models to 
which it had gone so long for inspiration. 

Architecture followed a like evolution, though its 
successive steps are less easily established. We are 
ignorant of what the palaces of the Homeric poems, 
belonging to about the ninth century before our era, 
may have been like ; but the bronze walls, the 
pinnacles brilliant with colour, the animals in gold 
and silver guarding the doors, of which the poet tells 
us, make us think at once of the Assyrian palaces 
covered with plates of bronze and enamelled bricks, 
and guarded by sculptured bulls. In any case, we 
know that the type of the most ancient Greek Doric 


columns, which seem to date from the seventh century, 
is met with in Egypt at Karnak and Beni- Hassan ; 
that several of the details of the Ionic column are 
borrowed from Assyria ; but we also know that these 
foreign elements, to some extent superimposed at 
first, then blended, and finally transformed, gave rise 
to new columns very different from their primitive 

At another extremity of the ancient world, Persia 
will offer us the example of an analogous adoption 
and evolution, though of an evolution that remained 
incomplete, because it was suddenly interrupted by 
foreign conquest. Persia did not have seven cen- 
turies, as Greece did, but only two hundred years, in 
which to create an art. So far only one people, the 
Arabs, has been successful in giving birth to a personal 
art in so short a time. 

The history of Persian civilisation scarcely begins 
before Cyrus and his successors, who succeeded, five 
centuries before our era, in taking possession of 
Babylon and Egypt, that is of the two great cities of 
civilisation, whose glory illumined at the time the 
Eastern world. The Greeks, who were to wield the 
supremacy in their turn, did not count as yet. 
The Persian empire became the centre of civilisa- 


tion until, three centuries before our era, it was over- 
thrown by Alexander, whose conquest at once 
removed elsewhere the centre of the civilisation of 
the world. Without an art of their own, the Persians, 
when they had possessed themselves of Egypt and 
Babylon, borrowed artists and models from the 
conquered countries. Their empire having lasted 
but two centuries, they did not have time to modify 
these arts profoundly, but at the moment of their 
overthrow they had already begun to transform them. 
The ruins of Persepolis, which are still standing, 
acquaint us with the genesis of these transformations. 
We doubtless meet in them with the fusion, or rather 
with the superposition, of the arts of Egypt and 
Assyria, mingled with some Greek elements ; but 
new elements, notably the lofty Persepolitan column 
with its bicephalous capitals, are already present, and 
authorise the belief that if the Persians had disposed 
of a longer interval of time, this superior race would 
have created an art as personal, if not as lofty, as that 
of the Greeks. 

This supposition is supported by an examination of 
the monuments of Persia dating from a period ten 
centuries later. To the dynasty of the Achaemenides, 
overthrown by Alexander, succeeded that of the 


Seleucides, then that of the Arsacides, and finally 
that of the Sassanides, overthrown in the seventh 
century by the Arabs. With the advent of these 
latter conquerors, Persia acquires a new architecture, 
and when it again raises monuments they offer an 
incontestable imprint of originality, the result of a 
combination of Arabian art with the ancient archi- 
tecture of the Achsemenides, modified by its com- 
bination with the somewhat Grecian art of the 
Arsacides (gigantic doorways taking in the entire 
height of the fagade, enamelled bricks, ogival 
arcades, etc.). It was this new art that the Mongols 
were to transport into India and to modify in their 

In the preceding examples we see the varying 
degrees of transformation which a people can effect 
in the arts of another people, according to the race 
and to the time it has been able to devote to this 

In the case of an inferior race, the /Ethiopians, 
although it had centuries at its disposal, we have 
seen that the borrowed art was made to return to an 
inferior form, the race being endowed with insufficient 
brain capacity. In the case of a race both superior 
and with centuries in which to operate, we have 


observed a complete transformation of the ancient 
art into a new and very superior art. In the case of 
another race, the Persians, not ranking so high as 
the Greeks, and who were limited in the matter 
of time, we have merely encountered great skill 
of adaptation and the beginnings of a transforma- 

Apart, however, from the examples, most of them 
distant, which we have just cited, there are many 
others more modern, of which the specimens are still 
standing, and which show the magnitude of the trans- 
formations a race is compelled to effect in the arts it 
borrows. These examples are the more typical, in 
that they are furnished by peoples professing the same 
religion but of different origin. I refer to the Mussul- 

When the Arabs possessed themselves of the 
greater part of the old world in the seventh century 
of our era, and founded the gigantic empire which 
soon stretched from Spain to the centre of Asia and 
included the north of Africa, they found themselves 
in presence of a clearly defined architecture : the 
Byzantine architecture. At first they simply adopted 
it for the edification of their mosques both in Spain, 
Egypt, and Syria. The mosque of Omar at Jeru- 


salem, that of Amrou at Cairo, and other monuments 
still standing show us this adoption. However, it 
did not last long, and in the various countries the 
monuments are seen to be transformed from century 
to century. We have shown the genesis of these 
changes in our " History of the Civilisation of the 
Arabs." They are so considerable, that there is no 
trace of resemblance between a monument of the 
early years of the conquest, such as the mosque of 
Amrou at Cairo (742), and one of the close of the 
great Arabian period, such as the mosque of Kait- 
Bey (1468). We have shown in our explanations and 
diagrams that, in the different countries subjected to 
the rule of Islam Spain, Africa, Syria, Persia, 
India the monuments present differences so con- 
siderable that it is really impossible to class them 
under the same denomination, as can be done, for 
example, in the case of the Gothic monuments which, 
in spite of their varieties, offer evident analogies. 

These radical differences in the architecture of 
the Mussulman countries cannot be the result of 
diversity of beliefs, since the religion is the same ; it 
is the result of racial divergencies whose influence 
on the evolution of the arts is as profound as it is on 
the destinies of empires. 


If this assertion is exact, we ought to expect to 
find very dissimilar monuments in a country inhabited 
by different races, even in the face of identical beliefs 
and unity of political domination. This is precisely 
the phenomenon that is observed in India. It is in 
India that it is easiest to find examples in support 
of the general principles set forth in this work, and it 
is for this reason that I am always referring to the 
great peninsular, which constitutes the most suggestive 
and the most philosophic of books of history. At 
the present day it is the only country in which, merely 
by travelling from one spot to another, it is possible 
to go from age to age and to gaze on the still existing 
series of successive stages which humanity has had 
to traverse to reach the higher levels of civilisation. 
All the forms of evolution are met with in India: the 
stone age has its representatives there, and so too has 
the age of electricity and steam. Nowhere can a 
better view be obtained of those great factors which 
preside over the genesis and evolution of civilisa- 

It is by applying the principles developed in the 
present work that I have attempted to solve a 
problem to which the key has long been sought : 
the origin of the arts of India, The subject being 


very little known and constituting an interesting 
application of our ideas on the psychology of races, 
we shall here sum up its most essential lines. 1 

As regards the arts, India does not make its 
appearance in history until very late. Its oldest 
monuments, such as the columns of Asoka, the 
temples of Karli, Bharhut, Sanchi, etc., scarcely date 
further back than two centuries before our era. 
When they were constructed the majority of the 
old civilisations of the ancient world, those of Egypt, 
Persia, and Assyria, even that of Greece itself, had 
terminated their cycle and entered the night of 
decadence. A single civilisation, that of Rome, had 
replaced all the others. The world knew but one 

India, which emerged so tardily from the shadows 
of history, was in a position then to borrow much 
from anterior civilisations. The profound isolation, 
however, in which it was formerly admitted the 
country had always lived, and the astonishing 
originality of its monuments, which possess no visible 

1 For technical details which cannot even be touched on here I shall 
refer the reader to my work, Les Monuments de flnde^ one vol. in folio, 
illustrated by four hundred plates from my own photographs, plans, and 
drawings (Didot). Many of these plates are given on a reduced scale 
in my work Les Civilisations dans F Inde, 4to, 800 pages. 



relationship with any of those that had preceded 
them, long resulted in the hypothesis of borrowings 
from abroad being set aside. 

Side by side with their indisputable originality, the 
early Indian monuments display a superiority of 
execution which they were not destined to surpass 
in the lapse of centuries. Works of so high a degree 
of perfection had doubtless been preceded by long 
anterior tentative efforts ; and yet, in spite of the 
most minute researches, no monument of an inferior 
order revealed the trace of these efforts. 

The recent discovery, in certain isolated regions 
of the north-west of the peninsular, of debris of 
statues and monuments clearly revealing Greek 
influences, had ended by inducing Indian antiquarians 
to believe that India had borrowed its arts from 

The application of the principles set forth above 
and the most careful study of the majority of the 
monuments still existing in India have led us to 
quite a different conclusion. India, in our opinion, in 
spite of its accidental contact with Greek civilisation, 
borrowed none of its arts from Greece and could not 
borrow any of them from this source. The differences 
between the two races were too great, their thought 


was too unlike, their artistic geniuses were too incom- 
patible for them to have influenced one another. 

The examination of the ancient monuments 
scattered over India shows, moreover, immediately 
that there is no relationship between its arts and 
those of Greece. Whereas our European monuments 
are full of elements borrowed from Grecian art, the 
monuments of India present absolutely no such 
elements. The most superficial study proves that we 
are in presence of extremely different races, and that 
geniuses more unlike I would even say more anti- 
pathetic have never perhaps existed than the Greek 
genius and the Hindu genius. 

This general notion is merely accentuated when a 
more thorough and penetrating study is made of the 
monuments of India and of the inner psychology of 
the peoples that created them. It is soon observed 
that the Hindu genius is too personal for it to undergo 
a foreign influence at variance with its thought 
Doubtless such a foreign influence can be imposed 
by force ; but however long it may be supposed to 
last, it remains exceedingly superficial and transitory. 
It would seem as if between the mental constitution 
of the peoples of India and that of other peoples, 
there were barriers as great as the formidable 


obstacles created by nature between the great 
peninsula and the other countries of the globe. 
The Hindu genius is so specific that, whatever be the 
object necessity obliges it to imitate, the object is 
immediately transformed and becomes Hindu. Even 
in architecture, where it is nevertheless difficult to 
conceal borrowings, the personality of this strange 
genius, this faculty of rapid modification is quick to 
reveal itself. It is possible, no doubt, to make a 
Hindu architect copy a Greek column, but he will 
not be prevented from transforming it rapidly into a 
column which at first sight will be said to be Hindu. 
Even at the present day, though European influence is 
now so powerful in India, such transformations are 
daily observable. If a Hindu artist be given any 
European model to copy, he will adopt its general 
form, but he will exaggerate certain parts, and 
multiply and disfigure the ornamental details, so 
that the second or third copy will have dropped all 
the Western characteristics and will have become 
exclusively Hindu. 

The fundamental characteristic of Hindu archi- 
tecture a characteristic also found in Hindu litera- 
ture, which for this reason is closely allied to Hindu 
architecture is an overflowing exaggeration, an 


infinite richness of detail, a complexity which is the 
very antipodes of the correct and severe simplicity of 
Grecian art. It is more especially in studying the arts 
of India that it is understood to what an extent the 
plastic works of a race are often allied to its mental 
constitution, and constitute the clearest of languages 
for those who know how to interpret them. If 
the Hindus, like the Assyrians, had entirely dis- 
appeared from history, the bas-reliefs of their 
temples, their statues, their monuments would suffice 
to reveal to us their past. What they would tell us 
in particular is that the clear and methodic genius of 
the Greeks had never been able to exercise the slightest 
influence on the overflowing and unmethodical imagi- 
nation of the Hindus. They would also make us 
understand why Grecian influence in India could 
never be other than transitory and was always 
limited to the region in which it was momentarily 
imposed by force. 

The study from an archaeological point of view of 
the monuments of India has enabled us to confirm by 
precise documents what is revealed immediately by 
a general knowledge of India and the Hindu genius. 
It has enabled us to establish the curious fact that, 
on several occasions, notably during the first two cen- 


turies of our era, the Hindu sovereigns in communi- 
cation with the Arsacides dynasty of Persia, whose 
civilisation bore a strong Grecian impress, desired to 
introduce Grecian art into India, but never succeeded 
in making it take root. 

This borrowed and wholly official art, which bore 
no relation to the thought of the people among whom 
it had been introduced, always disappeared with the 
political influences that had given birth to it. More- 
over it was too antipathetic to the Hindu genius to 
have exerted any influence on the national art even 
during the period during which it was imposed by 
force. No traces of Greek influence are found in the 
contemporary or posterior Hindu monuments, in the 
subterranean temples for example. On the other hand, 
they would be far too easily discerned for it to be 
possible to pass them over. Apart from the general 
aspect which is always characteristic, there are tech- 
nical details, the treatment of the draperies in par- 
ticular, which at once reveal the hand of a Greek 

The disappearance of Greek art in India was as 
sudden as its apparition, and this very suddenness 
shows how entirely it was an imported art, officially 
imposed but without affinity with the people that 


had been obliged to accept it. Arts never disappear 
in this way from amongst a people ; they transform 
themselves, and the new art always borrows some- 
thing from that of which it has taken the place. 
After suddenly appearing in India, Greek art as 
suddenly disappeared without exerting any influence 
whatever, exactly as has been the case with the 
European monuments erected in the country by the 
English during the past two centuries. 

The fact that at the present day the European arts 
exert no influence in India may be compared with 
the exceeding slightness of the influence of the Greek 
arts there eighteen centuries ago. It cannot be 
denied that we have here a case of incompatibility 
of aesthetic sentiments, for the Mussulman arts, 
although quite as foreign to India as the European 
arts, have been imitated throughout the peninsula. 
Even in those parts of the country where the Mus- 
sulmans have never exercised any power, it is rare to 
come across a temple that does not contain some 
traces of Arabian ornamentation. Doubtless, as in 
the distant times of King Kanishka, we see rajahs 
at the present day, such as the Rajah of Gwalior, 
attracted by the might of the foreigners, build them- 
selves European palaces in the Greco-Latin style, 



but again as in the time of Kanishka this official 
art, superposed on the indigenous art, is totally 
without influence on the latter. 

Greek and Hindu art, then, formerly existed side 
by side, like European art and Hindu art at the 
present day, but without ever influencing one 
another. So far as the monuments of India properly 
so called are concerned, there is not one of them 
of which it can be said that it offers, either in its 
general aspect or in its details, any resemblance 
whatever, however remote, with a Greek monu- 

This powerlessness of Grecian art to implant itself 
in India is striking, and it must needs be attributed to 
the incompatibility we have pointed out between the 
soul of the two races, and not to a sort of incapacity 
native to India to assimilate a foreign art, for the 
country has shown itself perfectly able to assimilate 
and transform the arts that corresponded to its 
mental constitution. 

The archaeological documents that we have been 
able to collect show that Persia was the source from 
which India derived its arts ; not the slightly 
Hellenised Persia of the time of the Arsacides, but 
the Persia that had inherited the old civilisations 


of Egypt and Assyria. It is known that when 
Alexander overthrew the dynasty of the Achae- 
menides, 330 B.C., the Persians had already been in 
possession for two centuries of a brilliant civilisation. 
Doubtless they had not discovered the formula of 
a new art, but the mixture of the arts of Egypt and 
Assyria which they had inherited had produced 
remarkable works. We can judge them by the still 
existing ruins of Persepolis, which show us by their 
Egyptian pylones, their Assyrian winged bulls, and 
even some Grecian elements, that all the arts of the 
great anterior civilisations had mingled their in- 
fluences in this limited region of Asia. 

India, then, borrowed its arts from Persia, but it 
borrowed them in reality from the sources to which 
Persia itself had gone, from Chaldaea and Egypt. 

The study of the monuments of India reveals the 
borrowings on which they lived originally, but to 
establish these borrowings the most ancient monu- 
ments must be examined, for the Hindu genius is 
so specific, that the borrowed elements, in order to 
adapt themselves to it, undergo such transformations 
that they soon become unrecognisable. 

Why is it that India, which has shown itself so 
incapable of borrowing anything whatever from 


Greece, has shown itself, on the contrary, so disposed 
to borrow from Persia ? The reason evidently is 
that the Persian arts corresponded to its mental 
structure, whereas there was no such correspondence 
in the case of the arts of Greece. The simple forms 
and the sparely ornamented surfaces of the Grecian 
monuments could not appeal to the Hindu genius, 
which was attracted, on the contrary, by the com- 
plicated forms, the exuberant decoration, and the 
wealth of ornament of the Persian monuments. 

Moreover, it is not solely at this distant epoch, 
anterior to our era, that Persia, representing Egypt 
and Assyria, exerted an influence on India by its 
arts. When, many centuries later, the Mussulmans 
appeared in the peninsula, their civilisation, during 
its passage through Persia, had been deeply imbued 
with Persian elements ; and it brought to India in 
reality a Persian art still bearing traces of those old 
Assyrian traditions which had been continued by 
the dynasty of Achsemenides. The gigantic door- 
ways of the mosques, and especially the enamelled 
bricks with which the mosques are lined externally, 
are vestiges of the Chaldseo-Assyrian civilisation. 
India was able to assimilate these arts so well, 
because they were in accordance with the genius of 


its race ; whereas Greek art in the past and European 
art at the present day, being utterly opposed to its 
mode of thinking and feeling, have always remained 
without influence on the national productions. 

It is not, then, with Greece, as the archaeologists 
still maintain, but with Egypt and Assyria through 
the medium of Persia that India is linked. India 
has borrowed nothing from Greece, but both have 
gone to the same sources, to that common treasure, 
the foundation of all civilisations, brought into being 
in the course of centuries by the peoples of Egypt 
and Chaldaea. The borrowings of Greece were 
effected through the medium of the Phoenicians and 
of the peoples of Asia Minor ; those of India through 
the medium of Persia. The civilisations of Greece 
and India hark back in this way to a common 
source ; but the currents that issued from this source 
in the two countries speedily took very different 
directions, in harmony with the genius of either race. 

If, however, as we have asserted, the art of a race 
is in close correspondence with its mental constitu- 
tion, and if for this reason the same art borrowed by 
dissimilar races at once assumes very different forms, 
we should expect to find that India, a country 
inhabited by a great variety of races, is in posses- 


sion of very different arts, and of styles of archi- 
tecture that bear no resemblance to one another, in 
spite of the identity of beliefs. 

An examination of the monuments of the different 
regions of India shows how entirely this is the case. 
Indeed, the differences between the monuments are 
so profound, that the only classification of the monu- 
ments we have been able to make is based on regions, 
that is on racial distinctions, and is quite independent 
of the religion to which the peoples who have con- 
structed them have belonged. There is no analogy 
between the monuments of the north of India and 
those of the south, constructed though they were at the 
same period by peoples professing a similar religion. 
Even during the Mussulman domination, at a period, 
that is, when the political unity of India was most 
complete, and the influence of the central authority 
at its maximum, the purely Mussulman monuments 
present profound differences according to the region 
in which they are found. The mosques of Ahmeda- 
bad, Lahore, Agra, or Bijapour, although devoted 
to the same cult, offer but a very slight relationship, 
a much slighter relationship than that which connects 
a monument of the Renaissance with those of the 
Gothic period. 


It is not architecture only that varies in India 
according to the race ; the statuary also varies with 
the different regions, not merely as regards the types 
represented, but especially in respect to the way in 
which they are treated. If the bas-reliefs or the 
statues of Sanchi be compared with those of Bharhut, 
with which they are nevertheless contemporary, the 
difference is already manifest. It is plainer still when 
the statues and bas-reliefs of the province of Orissa 
are compared with those of Bundelkund, or, again, 
the statues of Mysore with those of the great pagodas 
of the South of India. The influence of race is 
everywhere apparent. It is seen, moreover, in the 
most trifling artistic productions, which, as everybody 
is aware, differ immensely in India from one region 
to another. It is not necessary to be very expert to 
distinguish between a coffer in carved wood of 
Mysore workmanship and a coffer that hails from 
the Guzrat district, or between a jewel from the 
province of Orissa and a jewel from that of Bombay. 

Doubtless the architecture of India, like all 
Oriental architecture, is principally religious ; but 
however great religious influence may be, especially 
in the East, the influence of race is much more 


This soul of the race, which guides the destinies of 
peoples, determines as well their beliefs, institutions, 
and arts ; whatever be the element of civilisation 
under consideration, its action is always perceptible. 
It is the only force against which no other force 
can prevail. It represents the dead weight of 
thousands of generations, the synthesis of their 







The history of a people is always determined by its mental constitution 
Various examples How the political institutions of France are 
the outcome of the soul of the race Their real invariability beneath 
their apparent variability Our most different political parties 
pursue identical political ends under different names Their ideal 
is always centralisation and the destruction of individual initiative 
to the profit of the State How the French Revolution merely 
executed the programme of the old monarchy Contrast between 
the ideal of the Anglo-Saxon race and the Latin ideal The 
initiative of the citizen substituted for the initiative of the State 
Peoples' institutions are always the outcome of their character. 

HISTORY in its main lines may be regarded as 
the mere statement of the results engendered 
by the psychological constitution of races. It is 
determined by this constitution, just as the respira- 

10 129 


tory organs of fish are determined by their aquatic 
life. In the absence of a preliminary knowledge of 
the mental constitution of a people, its history appears 
a chaos of events governed by hazard. On the 
contrary, when we are acquainted with the soul of 
a people, its life is seen to be the regular and inevit- 
able consequence of its psychological characteristics. 
In all the manifestations of the life of a people, we 
always find the unchangeable soul of the race weaving 
itself its own destiny. 

It is more especially in political institutions that 
the sovereign power of the soul of the race manifests 
itself the most visibly. It will be easy for us to 
prove this statement by a few examples. 

Let us, to start with, take France, that is one of 
the countries of the world which has been subjected 
to the most profound upheavals, a country in which 
in a few years the political institutions seem to have 
changed most radically, in which the parties seem 
the most divergent. If we consider from the psycho- 
logical point of view these apparently so dissimilar 
opinions, these perpetually struggling parties, we 
note that they possess in reality a perfectly identical 
common substratum which exactly represents the 
ideal of our race. Intransigeants, Radicals, Monarch- 


ists, Socialists, in a word all the champions of the 
most diverse doctrines, pursue, though they give 
themselves different names, an absolutely identical 
end : the absorption of the individual by the State. 
What they all of them desire with a like ardour is 
the old centralised and Caesarian regime, the State 
directing everything, ordaining everything, absorbing 
everything, regulating the smallest details of the life 
of the citizens, and thus freeing them from the 
necessity of displaying the least glimmer of reflection 
and initiative. Whether the authority placed at the 
head of the State is called king, emperor, president, 
etc., is of no importance ; this authority, whatever it 
be, will perforce have the same ideal, and this ideal 
is the same expression of the sentiments of the soul 
of the race. 1 And the race would tolerate no other. 

While, then, our extreme excitability, the extreme 
ease with which we become discontented with our 
surroundings, the idea that a new Government will 
render our lot happier, lead us to be always changing 
our institutions, the mighty voice of the dead which 

1 " Such," writes a highly judicious observer, Dupont White, "is the 
singular genius of France : the character of the people precludes its 
succeeding in certain matters, either essential or desirable, which bear 
on the ornamental or fundamental side of civilisation, unless it be 
sustained or stimulated in the enterprise by its Government." 


guides us condemns us to change but words and 
appearances. The unconscious power of the soul of 
our race is such that we do not even perceive the 
illusion of which we are the victims. 

Nothing assuredly, if only appearances be con- 
sidered, is more different from the old regime than 
the regime created by the Great Revolution. In 
reality, however, the Revolution, though doubtless 
unawares, did no more than continue the mon- 
archical tradition, by completing the work of 
centralisation begun by the monarchy centuries 
previously. Were Louis XIII. and Louis XIV. to 
rise from their tombs to judge the work of the 
Revolution, they would doubtless blame some of the 
acts of violence which accompanied its realisation, 
but they would consider it to be in rigorous con- 
formity with their tradition and their programme, 
and they would allow that a minister entrusted with 
the execution of this programme could not have 
carried it out more successfully. They would declare 
that the least revolutionary government France has 
known was precisely that of the Revolution. They 
would further note that none of the various regimes 
that have succeeded one another in France for a 
century past has attempted to tamper with this 


work, so entirely is it the fruit of a regular evolu- 
tion, the continuation of the monarchical ideal and 
the expression of the genius of the race. Doubtless 
these illustrious phantoms, in consequence of their 
great experience, would offer some criticisms, would 
perhaps remark, for example, that the substitution 
of an administrative caste for the aristocratic govern- 
ing caste has created in the State an impersonal 
power that is more redoubtable than the old 
nobility, since it is the sole power which, being un- 
touched by political changes, is in possession of 
traditions and of an esprit de corps^ while it is irre- 
sponsible and perpetual conditions which necessarily 
lead to its becoming the sole master. However, 
they would not dwell, I fancy, to any great extent 
on this objection, for they would be mindful of the 
fact that the Latin peoples care very little for liberty, 
but a great deal for equality, and put up with all 
despotisms without difficulty provided they be im- 
personal. Perhaps, too, they would consider excessive 
and very tyrannical the innumerable regulations, the 
thousand and one obligations which surround at the 
present day the most insignificant acts of existence, 
and they would perhaps observe that when the State 
has absorbed everything, regulated everything, and 


despoiled the citizens of all initiative, we shall find 
ourselves spontaneously, and without any fresh 
revolution, involved in out and out Socialism. But 
at this stage of their reflection, die divine perspicacity 
that enlightens kings, or, in its absence, the mathe- 
matical principle that effects increase in geometrical 
progression when their causes subsist, win allow 
them to perceive that Socialism is nothing else than 
the ultimate expression of the monarchial idea, of 
which die Revolution was merely an accelerati ve phase. 

Thus it is that, in the institutions of a people 
meet both with those accidental circumstances referred 
to in the beginning of this work, and those permanent 
laws which we have attempted to determine. The 
accidental circumstances give rise to the names and 
appearances. The fundamental laws and the most 
fundamental of them arise from the character of 
peoples create the destiny of nations. 

With the preceding example, we may contrast that 
of another race, the English race, whose psycho- 
logical constitution is very different from our own. 
Merely in consequence of this : lonstitutions 

are radically distinct from ours. 

Whether the English have at their head a mom 
as in England, or a president as in the Unite 


their government will always present the same funda- 
mental characteristics : the action of the State will 
be reduced to a minimum and that of private 
individuals carried to a maximum, a state of things 
which is the precise contrary of the Latin ideal. 
Harbours, canals, railways, educational establish- 
ments, etc., will always be created and kept up by 
the initiative of private individuals and never by that 
of the State. 1 There are no revolutions, constitutions, 
or despots that can give to a people which does not 
possess them, or take from a people which does 
possess them, the qualities of character of which its 
institutions are the outcome. It has often been said 
that peoples have the governments they deserve. Is 
it conceivable that it should be otherwise ? 

We shall soon show by other examples that a 
people does not escape the consequences of its 
mental constitution ; or that if it throws off this 
influence it is only for a brief moment, as the sand 
swept up by a storm seems for an instant to be 
rebellious to the laws of attraction. It is a childish 
chimera to believe that governments and constitu- 

1 This preponderance of individual initiative should more especially 
be observed in America. It has singularly decreased in the last twenty- 
five years in England, where the encroachments of the State are 
becoming more and more marked. 


tions count for anything in the destinies of a people. 
The destiny of a people lies in itself, and not in 
exterior circumstances. All that can be asked of a 
government is that it shall be the expression of the 
sentiments and ideas of the people it is called on to 
govern, and by the mere fact that it exists, it is 
the image of the people. There are no governments 
or constitutions of which it can be said that they 
are absolutely good or absolutely bad. The govern- 
ment of the King of Dahomey was probably an 
excellent government for the people he was called 
on to rule over, and the most ingenious European 
constitution would have been inferior for his people. 
This truth is unfortunately ignored by statesmen 
who imagine that a mode of government can be 
exported, and that colonies can be governed with 
the institutions of a metropolis. It would be as 
futile to wish to persuade fish to live in the air, under 
the pretext that aerial respiration is practised by all 
the superior animals. 

By the mere fact of the diversity of their mental 
constitution, different peoples cannot long exist under 
an identical regime. The Irish and the English, the 
Slav and the Hungarian, the Arab and the French- 
man, are only maintained with the utmost difficulty 


under the same laws and at the cost of incessant 
revolutions. Great empires, embracing diverse peoples, 
have always been condemned to an ephemeral 
existence. When they have endured for some length 
of time, as the Mongolian Empire did, or as that of 
the English in India has done, it is on the one hand 
because the races in contact were so numerous, so 
different, and in consequence separated by such 
rivalries that it was impossible that they should unite 
against the foreigner ; and it was on the other hand 
because these foreign masters have had a sufficiently 
sure political instinct to respect the customs of the 
conquered peoples and to allow them to live under 
their own laws. 

Many books would have to be written, indeed 
history would have to be entirely recast and con- 
sidered from quite a new standpoint, if it were 
desired to show all the consequences of the psycho- 
logical constitution of peoples. A close study of this 
constitution ought to be the basis of politics and 
education. It might even be said that this study 
would avert many errors and many upheavals, if 
peoples could escape the fatalities of their race, if the 
voice of reason were not always extinguished by the 
imperious voice of the dead. 



The English character How the American soul has been formed 
Severity of the selection resulting from the conditions of existence 
Forced disappearance of the inferior elements The negroes 
and the Chinese Reasons of the prosperity of the United States 
and of the decadence of the Spanish-American republics in spite of 
identical political institutions Inevitable anarchy of the Spanish- 
American republics as a consequence of the inferiority of the 
characteristics of the race. 


HE brief considerations which precede show 
that the institutions of a people are the expres- 
sion of its soul, and that while it is easy for a people 
to change their form it is impossible for it to change 
their essence. We are now going to show by very 

precise examples to what a degree the soul of a 



people determines its destiny, and how insignificant 
is the role played by institutions in this destiny. 1 

I shall go for these examples to a country in which 
there exist side by side, under conditions of environ- 
ment but slightly different, two European races 
equally civilised and intelligent, and only differing as 
regards their character : I refer to America. This 
continent is formed by two distinct continents united 
by an isthmus. The superficies of each of these con- 
tinents is very nearly equal, and their soil not at all 
unlike. One of them has been conquered and peopled 
by the English, the other by the Spanish race. These 
two races live under similar republican institutions, 
since the republics of South America have always 
modelled their institutions on those of the United 

1 The illustrious English sociologist, Herbert Spencer, had neglected 
in his great works the influence of the character of peoples on their 
destinies, and his admirable theoretical syntheses had led him at first to 
very optimistic conclusions. Having decided as he became older to 
take into consideration the fundamental role of character, he has had to 
modify entirely his earlier conclusions, and has finally been brought to 
substitute for them extremely pessimistic conclusions. We find them 
expressed in a recently published discourse on Tyndall, reprinted in 
the Revue des Revues. Here are some extracts : 

"... My faith in free institutions, so strong to begin with, has con- 
siderably diminished of late years. . . . We are going back to the 
regime of the iron hand represented by the bureaucratic despotism of 
a socialist organisation, and then by the military despotism which will 
succeed it, supposing this latter not to be realised suddenly as the out- 
come of some acute social crisis. " 


States. In consequence, to explain the different 
destinies of these peoples we have nothing to go on 
but racial differences. Let us consider the results 
these differences have produced. 

To begin with, let us summarise in a few words the 
characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon race which has 
peopled the United States. There is no race, perhaps, 
in the world which is so homogeneous, and whose 
mental constitution it is so easy to define in its main 

The dominant features of this mental constitution 
from the point of view of character are : a degree of 
will power which very few peoples, with the exception 
perhaps of the Romans, have possessed, an indomit- 
able energy, very great initiative, absolute self- 
control, a sentiment of independence carried to the 
pitch of excessive unsociability, immense activity, very 
lively religious sentiments, a very stable morality, and 
a very clear idea of duty. 

From the intellectual point of view, it is impossible 
to give special characteristics, that is to say to point 
out special elements, not to be found in the other 
civilised nations. There is little to note beyond a 
sureness of judgment which allows of the grasping of 
the practical and positive side of things and keeps 


those who possess it from losing their way in 
chimerical researches : a strong liking for facts and 
but little taste for general ideas, a certain narrowness 
of mind which prevents the recognition of the weak 
sides of religious beliefs, and in consequence ensures 
those beliefs escaping discussion. 

To these general characteristics must be added a 
complete optimism with regard to the path the indi- 
vidual has traced himself in life, which leads him 
never even to suppose that he could possibly have 
chosen a better. He is always aware of what is 
demanded of him by his country, his family, his Gods. 
This optimism is carried to the pitch of regarding 
whatever is foreign as extremely contemptible. Con- 
tempt for the foreigner and his customs certainly 
surpasses in England that formerly professed by the 
Romans and Barbarians at the time of their greatness. 
So great is it, that as regards the foreigner every rule 
of morality ceases to hold good. There is not an 
English statesmen who does not consider as perfectly 
legitimate, in his conduct towards other peoples, acts 
which would provoke the deepest and the most unani- 
mous indignation if they were practised where his 
countrymen were concerned. This contempt for the 
foreigner is doubtless a sentiment of a very inferior 


order from the philosophic point of view ; but from 
the point of view of the prosperity of a people it is 
extremely useful. As Lord Wolseley, the well-known 
English general, has rightly remarked, it is one of the 
sentiments that make the strength of England. It has 
been said with reason, in connection with their refusal 
their very judicious refusal be it remarked to 
allow the construction of a tunnel under the Channel, 
which would facilitate communications with the Conti- 
nent, that the English take as much trouble as the 
Chinese to prevent the penetration into their country 
of all foreign influence. 

All the characteristics which have just been enu- 
merated are met with in the various social grades ; it 
would be impossible to light on any element of 
English civilisation on which they have not left their 
mark. The foreigner who visits England, if only for 
a few days, is at once struck by this fact. He will 
note the desire for an independent life in the cottage 
of the most humble employe, a confined dwelling, no 
doubt, but in which the householder is exposed to no 
restraint and is isolated from his neighbours ; in the 
busiest railway stations in which the public is free to 
circulate at all hours, not being penned in, like a flock 
of docile sheep, behind a barrier guarded by an 


employe, as if it were necessary to assure by force 
the security of people, incapable themselves of the 
amount of attention necessary to keep them from 
being run over. He will recognise the energy of the 
race in the laboriousness of the workman, or in that 
of the schoolboy, left to himself while still quite 
young, and learning to look after himself without 
assistance, he being already well aware that in the 
course of his existence nobody will be concerned 
with his fate ; in the schoolmasters, who set compara- 
tively little store on learning but attach great import- 
ance to character, which they hold to be one of the 
great motive forces of the world. 1 When he studies 
the public life of the citizen, he will see that it is not 
to the State but to private initiative that appeal is 
always made, whether it is a case of repairing a 
fountain or of constructing a harbour or a railway. 
Pursuing his inquiry, he will soon recognise that this 

1 Entrusted by the Queen of England with deciding the conditions 
on which the annual prize given by her to Wellington College should 
be awarded, Prince Albert ordered that it should be granted not to the 
scholar who had done best in his studies, but to the boy of best character. 
In the case of a Latin nation, the prize would certainly have been given 
to the pupil who repeated best what he had learned from his books. All 
our education, including what "we term higher education, consists in 
making our youth recite lessons. The scholars retain the habit to such 
a degree that they continue to recite them during the rest of their 


people, in spite of defects which make it the most 
insufferable of peoples in the eyes of foreigners, is the 
only really free people, because it is the only people 
which, having learned to govern itself, has been able 
to leave only a minimum of action to its government. 
If its history be studied, it is seen that it was the first 
people to free itself from every kind of domination, 
from that of the Church as well as from that of kings. 
As early as the fifteenth century the legist Fortescue 
contrasted " the Roman law, the inheritance of the 
Latin peoples, with the English law : the one the 
work of absolute sovereigns, and wholly inclined to 
sacrifice the individual ; the other the work of the 
will of the community, and ever ready to protect the 

To whatever quarter of the globe such a people 
may emigrate, it will at once acquire the preponder- 
ance, and found powerful empires. If the race it 
invades, as in the case of the Redskins of America, 
for example, is sufficiently weak, and insufficiently 
utilisable, it will be methodically exterminated. If 
the race invaded, as in the case of the population of 
India, is too numerous to be destroyed, and is capable 
moreover of doing productive work, it will simply be 
reduced to a very oppressive state of vassalage, and 


obliged to labour for the almost exclusive advantage 
of its masters. 

It is more especially, however, in a new country 
such as America, that the astonishing progress due to 
the mental constitution of the English race should 
be studied. Transported into uncultivated regions, 
sparsely inhabited by some few savages, it is notorious 
what its destiny has been. Scarcely a century has 
been necessary to raise the country to the front rank 
among the great powers of the world, and to-day 
there are few powers that would be a match for it. 
I advise those who are desirous of appreciating for 
themselves the enormous sum of initiative and indi- 
vidual energy expended by the citizens of the great 
Republic to read the books of MM. Rousier and Paul 
Bourget. The aptitude of the Americans to govern 
themselves, to unite together to found great enter- 
prises, to create towns, schools, harbours, railways, 
etc., has arrived at such a pitch, and the action of the 
State has been reduced to such a minimum, that it 
might almost be said that no public authorities exist. 
Apart from filling police duties and those of diplo- 
matic representation, it is even difficult to see what 
purpose they could serve. 

It is impossible, moreover, for an individual to 


prosper in the United States except on the condition 
that he possesses the qualities of character I have just 
described, and this is why the foreign immigrations 
are powerless to modify the general trend of mind of 
the race. The conditions of existence are such that 
the individuals who do not possess these qualities are 
condemned to disappear at an early date. Only the 
Anglo-Saxon can live in this atmosphere saturated 
with independence and energy. The Italian dies of 
starvation, and the Irishman and the negro vegetate 
in the most humble situations. 

The great Republic is assuredly the land of liberty ; 
it is assuredly the land neither of equality nor of 
fraternity, those two Latin chimeras which the laws 
of progress do not recognise. In no country on the 
globe has natural selection made its iron arm more 
rudely felt. It is unpitying ; but it is precisely 
because it ignores pity that the race it has con- 
tributed to form retains its power and energy. 
There is no room for the weak, the mediocre, the 
incapable on the soil of the United States. By the 
mere fact that they are inferior, isolated individuals 
or entire races are destined to perish. The Redskin 
Indians, because useless, have been shot down, or 
condemned to die of hunger. The Chinese workmen, 


whose labour constitutes a vexatious source of com- 
petition, will soon undergo a similar fate. The law 
decreeing their total expulsion has not been carried 
out because of the enormous expenses its application 
would entail. 1 Its place will doubtless soon be taken 
by a methodical destruction, already begun in several 
mining districts. Other laws have recently been 
voted, forbidding pauper emigrants to land on 
American territory. As to the negroes who served 
as the pretext for the War of Succession a war 
between those who possessed slaves, and those who, 
being unable to possess them, did not wish to allow 
others to own them they are almost tolerated 
because they fill none but subordinate positions 
which no American citizen would consent to accept. 
Theoretically they have rights ; practically they are 
treated like semi- useful animals, who are got rid of 
as soon as they become dangerous. The summary 
proceedings of Lynch-law are universally recog- 
nised to meet their case. At their first crime 
of any gravity they are shot or hanged. Statistics, 

1 The Fifty-third Congress only adjourned the execution of the Geary 
law (Chinese Exclusion Act) because it found that to convey a hundred 
thousand Chinamen back to their country would involve an expenditure 
of thirty millions of francs, whereas the sum voted for the expulsion of 
the Chinese workmen was only one hundred thousand francs, 


which only include a portion of these execu- 
tions, give over a thousand for the last seven 

These are doubtless the gloomy sides of the picture. 
It is brilliant enough to support them. If it were 
required to define in a word the difference between 
Continental Europe and the United States, it might 
be said that the first represents the maximum of what 
can result from official regulation replacing individual 
initiative ; the second, the maximum of what can be 
effected by individual initiative entirely freed from all 
official regulation. These fundamental differences are 
exclusively the consequences of character. It is not 
on the soil of the rude Republic that European 
Socialism has a chance of implanting itself. The 
ultimate expression of State tyranny, it can only 
prosper among old races, subjected for centuries to a 
regime which has deprived them of all capacity for 
self-government. 1 

We have just seen what has been accomplished in 

1 The America I have just described is the America of yesterday and 
to-day, but it doubtless will not be that of to-morrow. We shall see in 
a forthcoming chapter that the country is threatened, in consequence of 
its recent invasion by an immense number of inferior and unassimilable 
elements, by a gigantic civil war, which may be followed by its 
division into several independent States, always fighting amongst 
themselves as are those of Europe. 


one portion of America by a race possessing a mental 
constitution of which the dominant features are per- 
severance, energy, and strength of will. It remains 
for us to show what has become of an almost similar 
country in the hands of another race, which, though 
highly intelligent, possesses none of the qualities of 
character whose effects I have just noted. 

South America, as regards its natural productions, 
is one of the richest countries of the globe. Twice as 
large as Europe, and ten times less inhabited, there is 
no lack of land which is, so to speak, at the disposition 
of everybody. The dominant population, which is of 
Spanish origin, is divided into numerous republics : 
the republics of Argentina, Brazil, Chili, Peru, etc. 
All of them have adopted the political constitution of 
the United States, and live in consequence under 
identical laws. And yet, by the mere fact that the 
race is different and lacks the fundamental qualities 
possessed by the people of the United States, all these 
republics, without a single exception, are perpetually 
a prey to the most sanguinary anarchy, and in spite 
of the astonishing richness of their soil they are 
victims one after the other of every sort of political 
and economic disaster, of bankruptcy and despotism. 

To appreciate the lengths reached by the decadence 


of the Spanish-American republics, the remarkable 
and impartial work on the subject of Th. Child 
must be read. The causes of this decadence lie 
entirely in the mental constitution of a race possessing 
neither energy, strength of will, nor morality. The 
absence of morality, in particular, surpasses all we 
know that is worst in Europe. Citing one of the 
most important towns, Buenos Ayres, the author 
declares it to be uninhabitable by anybody of any 
delicacy of conscience or morality. In reference to 
one of the least degraded of the republics, the 
Argentine Republic, the same writer adds : " If this 
republic be studied from the commercial point of 
view, one is dumbfounded by the blatant immorality 
that is to be met with in every direction." 

As to the institutions, there is no better example of 
how wholly they are the offspring of the race, and 
of the impossibility of transplanting them from one 
people to another. It was of great interest to know 
what would happen to the very liberal institutions of 
the United States after their introduction among an 
inferior race. " These countries," M. Child informs 
us of the various Spanish-American republics, " are 
under the ferule of Presidents who exercise an 
autocracy not less absolute than that of the Tzar of 


all the Russias ; more absolute, indeed, for they have 
nothing to fear from the importunities and the 
influence of European censure. The Government 
officials are solely recruited from amongst their 
creatures ; . . . the citizens vote as they choose, but 
no account is paid to their votes. The Argentine 
Republic is a republic in name only ; in reality it is 
an oligarchy in the hands of persons who make a 
commerce of politics." 

Only one country, Brazil, had to some extent 
escaped this decadence, thanks to a monarchical 
regime which kept the central authority from being 
the object of individual rivalries. This constitution, 
too liberal for races without energy and without will, 
has ended by succumbing. The result is that the 
country is a prey to utter anarchy. In the lapse of a 
few years, the dilapidation of the public finances by 
those in power has been such that the taxes have 
had to be increased by over sixty per cent. 

Naturally, it is not in politics only that the 
decadence is manifest of the Latin race by which 
South America is peopled, but in all the other 
elements of civilisation as well. Left to themselves, 
these hapless republicans would revert to pure 
barbarism. All their industry and commerce is in 


the hands of foreigners, of Englishmen, Americans, and 
Germans. Valparaiso has become an English city; 
and nothing would remain of Chili if the foreign 
element were to disappear. It is thanks to the 
foreigner that these countries still retain that external 
varnish of civilisation that still deceives Europe. The 
Argentine Republic counts four millions of whites of 
Spanish origin ; I doubt whether a single white man, 
apart from foreigners, could be cited at the head of an 
important industry. 

This terrible decadence of the Latin race, left to 
itself, compared with the prosperity of the English 
race in a neighbouring country, is one of the most 
sombre, the saddest, and, at the same time, the most 
instructive experiences that can be cited in support of 
the psychological laws that I have enunciated. 



The influence of foreign elements at once transforms the soul of a race, 
and in consequence its civilisation Example of the Romans 
Roman civilisation was not destroyed by military invasions, but 
by the pacific invasions of the Barbarians The Barbarians never 
formed the project of destroying the Empire Their invasions were 
not of the nature of conquests The early Frank chiefs always con- 
sidered themselves to be functionaries of the Roman Empire They 
always respected Roman civilisation, and their aim was to continue 
it It was only from the seventh century onwards that the Gallic 
barbarian chiefs ceased to consider the Emperor as their superior 
The complete transformation of Roman civilisation was not the 
consequence of a work of destruction, but of the adoption of an 
ancient civilisation by a new race The modern invasions of the 
United States The civil strife and the breaking up of the United 
States into independent and rival States to which these invasions 
will lead The invasion of France by foreigners and their con- 

THE examples we have cited show that the 
history of a people does not depend on its 

institutions, but on its character that is to say, on its 



race. We further saw, when studying the formation 
of historical races, that their dissolution is the result 
of cross-breeding, and that the peoples which have 
preserved their unity and force the Aryans, for 
example, in India in the past, and in modern times 
the English in their various colonies are those who 
have always carefully avoided intermarrying with 
foreigners. The presence in the midst of a people of 
foreigners, even in small numbers, is sufficient to 
affect its soul, since it causes it to lose its capacity for 
defending the characteristics of its race, the monu- 
ments of its history, and the achievements of its 

This conclusion arises out of all of what precedes. 
If the various elements of a civilisation are to be 
regarded as the exterior manifestation of the soul of 
a people, it is evident that as soon as the soul of the 
people changes, its civilisation should change as well. 

The history of the past supplies us with incon- 
trovertible proof that this is what indeed occurs, and 
the history of the future will furnish many other such 

The progressive transformation of Roman civilisa- 
tion is one of the most striking examples it is possible 
to invoke. Historians usually picture this event as 


the result of the destructive invasions of the Bar- 
barians ; but a more attentive study of the facts 
shows, on the one hand, that it was pacific and not 
warlike invasions which brought about the fall of the 
Empire ; and, on the other hand, that the Barbarians, 
far from having wished to overthrow Roman civili- 
sation, devoted all their efforts towards adopting and 
continuing institutions of which they were the re- 
spectful admirers. They essayed to appropriate the 
language, the institutions and the arts of Rome. 
Down to the time of the last of the Merovingians, 
they endeavoured to continue the great civilisation 
of which they were the heirs. This guiding intention 
is reflected in all the acts of the great Emperor 

We know, however, that such a task has always 
been impossible. The Barbarians needed several 
centuries before they could form, by repeated crosses 
and identical conditions of existence, a race in any 
way homogeneous ; and when this race was formed it 
possessed, merely in virtue of the fact of its creation, 
a new language and new institutions, and in con- 
sequence a new civilisation. The mighty traditions of 
Rome left their impress deeply marked on this 
civilisation, but the various efforts to revive the 


civilisation of Rome itself have always been vain. 
The Renaissance endeavoured in vain to revive its 
arts, and the Revolution to bring back its institutions. 

The Barbarians who successively invaded the 
Empire from the first century onwards, and who in 
the end absorbed it, never proposed to destroy but, 
on the contrary, to continue its civilisation. Had 
they never waged war on Rome, had they confined 
themselves to mixing with the Romans in ever 
increasing numbers, the course of history would not 
have been changed ; they would not have destroyed 
the Empire, but their mere mingling with the Roman 
people would have sufficed to destroy its soul. It 
may be said, then, that the Roman civilisation has 
never been overthrown, but has simply been con- 
tinued, transforming itself in the course of ages by 
the mere fact of its having fallen into the hands of 
different races. 

A glance at the history of the barbarian invasions 
is amply sufficient to justify what precedes. 

The labours of modern scholars, and particularly 
those of Fustel de Coulanges, have clearly shown 
that it was the pacific and not the aggressive 
invasions of the Barbarians the aggressive invasions 
were easily repulsed by Barbarians in the pay of the 


empire that brought about the progressive dis- 
appearance of the might of Rome. As early as the 
times of the first emperors the custom had been 
introduced of employing Barbarians in the army. It 
gained ground in proportion as the Romans became 
richer and more refractory to military service, till, 
after the lapse of several centuries, there were none 
but foreigners in the army as in the administration : 
" The Visigoths, the Burgundians, the Franks were 
federate soldiers in the service of the Roman Empire." 
When Rome came to have none but Barbarians in 
its service, and when its provinces were governed by 
barbarian chiefs, it was evident that these chiefs 
would render themselves progressively more and 
more independent. They were, indeed, successful 
in this effort, but such was the prestige of Rome, that 
it never occurred to any of them to overthrow the 
empire, even when Rome fell into their power. 
When one of these chiefs, Odoacre, king of the 
Heruti, in the pay of the empire, possessed himself 
of Rome in 476, he hastened to ask the emperor, 
whose residence at this time was Constantinople, for 
his authorisation to govern Italy with the title of 
Patrician. None of the other chiefs behaved differ- 
ently. It was always in the name of Rome that they 


governed their provinces. It never occurred to them 
to dispose of the soil or to tamper with the institutions. 
Clovis regarded himself as a Roman functionary, and 
was very proud when he obtained the title of consul 
from the emperor. Thirty years after his death, his 
successors still accepted the laws promulgated by the 
emperors, and considered themselves bound to see 
that they were observed. The beginning of the 
seventh century must be reached before the barbarian 
chiefs of Gaul are found to venture on issuing money 
bearing their own effigy. Until then their coins had 
always borne the effigy of the emperors. It is only 
from this period onwards that it can be said that the 
Gallic population ceased to regard the emperor as 
their chief. In fact, the historians make the history 
of France begin two hundred years too soon and 
accord us some ten kings too many. 

Nothing less resembles a conquest than the bar- 
barian invasions, since the populations retained their 
lands, their language, and their laws, which is never 
the case in connection with true conquests, such as 
that, for example, of England by the Normans. 

It is probable that the disappearance of the 
authority of Rome was so gradual, that it took place 
unperceived by the people of the period. The 


provinces had been accustomed for centuries to be 
governed by chiefs acting in the name of the 
emperors. Very gradually and very slowly their 
chiefs came to govern on their own account. Nothing 
in consequence was changed. The same regime 
continued under new masters throughout the Merov- 
ingian period. 1 

The only real change, and it ended by becoming a 
very profound change, was the formation of a new 
historic race, involving as a necessary consequence 
according to the laws we have set forth the birth of 
a new civilisation. 

In virtue of that eternal repetition of the same 
phenomena, which seems the most fixed of the laws 
of history, we are probably destined to witness in 
contemporary history pacific invasions analogous to 
those which brought about the transformation of 
Roman civilisation. In view of the general exten- 
sion of modern civilisation, it may seem that nowa- 
days there are no longer any barbarians, or at any 
rate that these barbarians, relegated to the depths of 
Asia and Africa, are too far from us to be very 

1 " The Merovingian government," declares M. Fustel de Coulanges, 
" was in the main a continuation of that which the Roman Empire had 
given Gaul. . . . There was nothing feudal about the government of 
the Merovingians," 


redoubtable. Assuredly we have not to fear being 
invaded by them ; and if they are to be dreaded it 
will only be, as I have shown in another work, 
because the time may come when they will enter into 
economic rivalry with Europe. It is not with them 
in consequence that we are concerned here, but 
though the Barbarians may seem to be very distant, 
they are in reality very close, far closer than at the 
time of the Roman emperors. The fact is that they 
exist in the very bosom of civilised nations. In 
consequence of the complication of our modern 
civilisation, and of that progressive differentiation of 
individuals to which I have referred, each people 
contains an immense number of inferior elements 
incapable of adapting themselves to a civilisation 
that is too superior for them. There results an 
enormous waste population, and the peoples who 
come to be invaded by it will have reason to dread 
the experience. 

At the present day it is towards the United States 
of America that these new barbarians direct their 
steps with a common accord, and it is by them that the 
civilisation of this great nation is seriously threatened. 
So long as the foreign immigration was on a small 
scale, and composed in the main of English elements, 


its absorption was easy and useful. It has brought 
about the astonishing greatness of America. The 
United States are now exposed to a gigantic invasion 
of inferior elements which they neither wish nor are 
able to assimilate. Between 1880 and 1890 they 
received nearly six millions of emigrants, almost 
exclusively composed of workmen of a low class and 
of every nationality. To-day of the 1,100,000 in- 
habitants of Chicago not a quarter are Americans. 
The population includes 400,000 Germans, 220,000 
Irish, 50,000 Poles, 55,000 Czechs, etc. There is no 
fusion between these immigrants and the Americans. 
They do not even take the trouble to learn the 
language of their new country, in which they form 
mere colonies engaged in badly paid occupations. 
They are discontented and in consequence dangerous. 
During the recent railway strike Chicago narrowly 
escaped being burned down by them, and it was 
necessary to fire on them pitilessly. It is solely 
among their ranks that are recruited the adepts of 
that barbarous and levelling socialism, which is 
perhaps realisable in decadent Europe, but is quite 
antipathetic to the character of true Americans. The 
conflicts which socialism is about to engender on the 
soil of the great Republic will be, in reality, conflicts 



between races which have reached different levels of 

It seems evident that in the civil war that is 
preparing between the America of the Americans 
and the America of the foreigners, the triumph will 
not rest with the barbarians. This gigantic struggle 
will doubtless end in a hecatomb reproducing on an 
immense scale the complete extermination of the 
Cimbrians by Marius. If the struggle is at all 
delayed and the invasion continues, it will become 
impossible that the solution should be total destruc- 
tion. In that case the destiny of the United States 
will probably be that of the Roman Empire that is to 
say, the breaking up of the existing provinces of the 
republic into independent states, as divided and as 
frequently at war as those of Europe or as those of 
Spanish America. 

America is not the only country threatened by 
these invasions. There is one State in Europe, 
France, which is menaced in the same way. It is a 
rich country, whose population does not increase, 
surrounded by poor countries whose population is 
constantly increasing. The immigration of these 
neighbours is inevitable, and the more so as it is 
rendered necessary by the growing exigencies of our 


working classes, taken in connection with the needs 
of agriculture and industry. The advantages these 
immigrants find on our soil are evident. They are 
freed from the obligation of military service, being 
foreign nomads they have few or no taxes to pay, 
and the work is easier and better paid than in their 
native territory. Further, they invade our country, 
not merely because of its riches, but because the 
majority of other countries are always passing laws 
forbidding their entrance. 

This invasion of foreigners is the more redoubtable, 
in that it is naturally the most inferior elements, 
those that cannot succeed in making a livelihood in 
their own country, that emigrate. Our humanitarian 
principles condemn us to undergo an ever increasing 
foreign invasion. Forty years ago there were only 
400,000 such foreign immigrants ; to-day they number 
over 1,200,000, and they are always flocking in 
in increasing hordes. Considered merely in respect to 
the number of Italians it contains, Marseilles might 
be called an Italian colony. Italy does not possess a 
single colony that contains a like number of Italians. 
If the present conditions do not change, if, that is to 
say, these invasions do not stop, but a very short 
time will have to elapse before a third of the popula- 


tion of France has become German and a third 
Italian. What can become of the unity, or even of 
the existence of a people under such conditions? 
The worst disasters on the battlefield would be 
infinitely less grave than such invasions. 1 It was a 
very sure instinct that taught the ancient peoples to 
dread foreigners ; they were well aware that the situa- 
tion of a country is judged not by the number of its 
inhabitants, but by that of its citizens. 

Once more we find that at the bottom of all 
historical and social questions lies the inevitable 
racial problem. It dominates all the others. 

1 These invasions being the consequence of certain economical 
phenomena it is impossible to control, they cannot be prevented. Still, 
certain measures might be taken which would at least check them : 
obligatory military service in the Foreign Legion for all foreigners less 
than twenty-five years of age and counting two years' residence ; military 
tax on the older immigrants ; almost entire suppression of naturalisa- 
tion ; tax amounting to a quarter of the income or salary on all 
foreigners established in France for less than fifty years. The Deputy 
who should cause such a law to be voted would be worthy of a statue 
erected by his grateful country. 







The leading ideas of each civilisation are always very few in number 
Extreme slowness of their birth and disappearance Ideas do not 
influence conduct until they have been transformed into sentiments 
They then form part of the character It is thanks to the slow- 
ness of the evolution of ideas that civilisations possess a certain 
fixity How ideas take root The reason has no influence what- 
ever The influence of affirmation and prestige The role of 
enthusiasts and apostles Deformation undergone by ideas as 
they penetrate the masses A universally admitted idea soon 
influences all the elements of civilisation It is thanks to their 
community of ideas that the men of each age have a sum total of 
average conceptions which makes them very much alike in their 
thoughts and actions The yoke of custom and opinion It is not 
relaxed until the critical ages of history when the old ideas are 
losing their influence and have not as yet been replaced This 
critical age is the only age in which the discussion of opinions can 
be tolerated Dogmas only hold their own on the condition that 
they are not discussed Peoples cannot change their ideas and 
dogmas without being at once obliged to change their civilisation. 

AFTER having shown that the psychological 
characteristics of races possess great fixity, and 

that the history of peoples is the consequence of 



these characteristics, we added that it was possible 
for the psychological elements, as it is for the 
anatomical elements of species, to be transformed in 
the long run by slow hereditary accumulations. The 
evolution of civilisations depends in a large measure 
on these transformations. 

Various factors are capable of provoking psycho- 
logical changes. Wants, the struggle for life, the 
action of certain surroundings, the progress of the 
sciences and of industry, education, beliefs, and 
many other factors exert an influence. We have 
already devoted a volume x to the study of each of 
them. It is impossible to treat the matter in detail 
here. We merely return to it with a view to show- 
ing, by the choice of a few essential factors, the 
mechanism of their action. It is to this study that 
will be devoted the present and following chapters. 

The study of the various civilisations that have 
succeeded one another since the origin of the world 
proves that they have always been guided in their 
development by a very small number of fundamental 
ideas. If the history of peoples were confined to 
that of their ideas it would never be very long. When 
a civilisation has succeeded in creating in a century 

1 Ilhomme et les socictes. Leurs origines et leur histoire, vol. ii. 


one or two fundamental ideas in the domain of the 
arts, the sciences, literature or philosophy, it may be 
considered that it has been exceptionally brilliant. 

Ideas can have no real action on the soul of 
peoples until, as the consequence of a very slow 
elaboration, they have descended from the mobile 
regions of thought to that stable and unconscious 
region of the sentiments in which the motives of our 
actions are elaborated. They then become elements 
of character and may influence conduct. Character 
is formed in part of a stratification of unconscious 

When ideas have undergone this slow elaboration 
their power is considerable, because reason ceases to 
have any hold on them. The enthusiast who is 
dominated by an idea, religious or other, is in- 
accessible to reasoning, however intelligent he may 
be. -All he will be able to attempt, and most often 
he will not make the effort, will be to try, by artifices 
of thought and deformations often very great, to 
bring any idea that seems to contradict the con- 
ceptions which dominate him, into some sort of 
agreement with them. 

If ideas can only exert an action after having slowly 
descended from the regions of the conscious to those 


of the unconscious, it is understandable that they will 
be very slowly transformed, and that the leading ideas 
of a civilisation should be very few in number, and 
require so long a period for their evolution. We 
ought to congratulate ourselves that such is the 
case ; were it not so it would be impossible that 
civilisations should have any fixity. It is equally 
fortunate that new ideas can implant themselves in 
the long run, for if the old ideas were absolutely 
unchangeable, civilisations would be unable to realise 
any progress. Thanks to the slowness of our mental 
transformations many generations of men are needed 
to secure the triumph of new ideas, and many other 
generations to bring about their disappearance. The 
most civilised peoples are those whose leading ideas 
have been able to maintain an equal distance between 
variability and fixity. History is strewn with the 
debris of the peoples who have been unable to 
maintain this equilibrium. 

It is easy, in consequence, to understand how it is 
that what is most striking when the history of the 
various peoples is studied, is not the wealth and novelty 
of their ideas, but, on the contrary, the extreme poverty 
of these ideas, the slowness of their transformations, 
and the power they exert. Civilisations are the 


result of some few fundamental ideas, and when 
these ideas change, the civilisations are at once com- 
pelled to change as well. The Middle Ages existed 
on two principal ideas : the religious idea and the 
feudal idea. Its arts, its literature, and its entire 
conception of life are derived from these ideas. At 
the time of the Renaissance these ideas undergo 
some modification ; the rediscovered ideal of the old 
Greco-Latin world implants itself in Europe, and at 
once the conception of life, the arts and literature 
begin to be transformed. Then the authority of 
tradition is shaken, scientific truths substitute them- 
selves gradually for revealed truth, and civilisation is 
once against transformed. At the present day the 
old religious ideas seem definitely to have lost the 
greater part of their empire, and owing to this fact all 
the social institutions that were based on them are 
threatened with destruction. 

The history of the genesis of ideas, of their domi- 
nation, of their transformations, and of their disappear- 
ance, can only be written on the principle of citing 
numerous examples in illustration. Could we enter 
into details, we would show that each element of 
civilisation philosophy, beliefs, arts, literature, etc. 
is subject to a very small number of leading ideas 


whose evolution is exceedingly slow. The sciences 
themselves do not escape this law. The whole of 
modern physics is derived from the idea of the 
indestructibility of force, the whole of biology from 
the idea of evolution, the whole of medicine from the 
idea of the action of the infinitely small; and the 
history of these ideas shows that, although the 
persons called upon to appreciate them belong to 
the most enlightened classes, they only establish 
themselves little by little and with difficulty. In a 
century in which everything proceeds with such 
rapidity, and in a field of investigation in which 
passions and interests have little play, the implanting 
of a fundamental scientific idea requires not less than 
twenty-five years. The clearest ideas, those most 
easily demonstrable, those which should have aroused 
the least controversy, were just as long in finding 

Whatever the nature of the idea, whether it be a 
scientific, artistic, philosophic, or religious idea, the 
mechanism of its propagation is always identical. 
It has to be adopted at first by a small number of 
apostles, the intensity of whose faith and the 
authority of whose names give great prestige. They 
then act much more by suggestion than by demon- 


stration. The essential elements of the mechanism 
of persuasion must not be sought for in the value of 
a demonstration. Ideas can be enforced either by the 
prestige of the promulgator or by an appeal to the 
passions, but no influence is exerted by appealing 
solely to the reason. The masses never let them- 
selves be persuaded by demonstrations, but merely by 
affirmations, and the authority of "these affirmations 
depends solely on the prestige exerted by the 
person who enunciates them. 

When these apostles have succeeded in convincing 
a small circle of adepts and have thus formed new 
apostles, the new idea begins to enter the domain of 
discussion. It arouses at first universal opposition, 
because it necessarily clashes with much that is old 
and established. The apostles who defend it are 
naturally excited by this opposition, which merely 
convinces them of their superiority over the rest of 
mankind, and they defend the new idea energetically, 
not because it is true most often they know nothing 
about its truth or falsehood but simply because they 
have adopted it. The new idea is now more and more 
discussejd ; that is to say, in reality it is entirely accepted 
by the one side, and entirely rejected by the other side. 
Affirmations and negations but very few arguments, 


are exchanged, the sole motives for the acceptance or 
rejection of an idea being inevitably, for the immense 
majority of brains, mere sentimental motives, in which 
reasoning cannot have any part. 

Thanks to these always impassioned debates, the 
idea progresses slowly. The new generations who 
find it controverted tend to adopt it merely because 
it is controverted. For young persons, always 
eager to be independent, wholesale opposition to 
received ideas is the most accessible form of 

The idea continues then to gain ground, and before 
long it has no longer any need of support. It will 
now spread everywhere by the mere effect of imita- 
tion, acting as a contagion, a faculty with which men 
are generally endowed in as high a degree as are the 
big anthropoid apes, which modern science assigns 
to men as their forefathers. 

As soon as the mechanism of contagion intervenes, 
the idea enters on the phase which necessarily means 
success. It is soon accepted by opinion. It then 
acquires a penetrating and subtle force which spreads 
it progressively among all intellects, creating simul- 
taneously a sort of special atmosphere, a general 
manner of thinking. Like the fine dust of the high- 


way which penetrates everywhere, it finds its way 
into all the conceptions and all the productions of an 
epoch. The idea and its consequences then form part 
of that compact stock of hereditary commonplaces 
imposed on us by education. The idea has triumphed 
and has entered the domain of sentiment where for 
long it will have nothing to fear. 

Of the various ideas which guide a civilisation, 
some, those relating to the arts or philosophy for 
example, rest confined to the upper grades of the 
nation ; others, particularly those relating to religious 
conceptions and politics, go deep down in some 
instances among the crowd. They arrive there in 
general much deformed, but when they arrive there 
the power they exert over primitive minds incapable 
of reasoning is immense. The idea under these con- 
ditions represents something that is invincible, and 
its efforts are propagated with the violence of a 
torrent that has overflown its banks. It is always 
easy to find among a people a hundred thousand 
men ready to risk their lives to defend an idea as 
soon as this idea has subjugated them. Then it is 
that supervene those great events which revolutionise 
history, and which only crowds are capable of accom- 
plishing. It is not men of letters, artists, or philo- 


sophers who established the religions which have 
ruled the world, or the vast empires which have 
stretched from one hemisphere to another, or who 
have been the causes of the great religious and 
political revolutions which have changed the face of 
Europe. These achievements have been the work of 
the illiterate sufficiently dominated by an idea to 
sacrifice their lives to its propagation. With nothing 
else to rely on but this theoretically very insignificant 
though practically very effective outfit, the nomads of 
the deserts of Arabia conquered a portion of the old 
Greco-Roman world and founded one of the most 
giganic empires known to history. It was with a 
similar moral outfit the domination of an idea 
that the heroic soldiers of the Convention were 
victorious against the onslaughts of Europe up in 

A strong conviction is so irresistible that only a 
conviction of equal strength has any chance of 
resisting it victoriously. Faith is the only serious 
enemy faith has to fear. It is sure to triumph where 
the material force opposed to it is in the service of 
weak sentiments and enfeebled beliefs. If, however, 
it finds itself confronted by a faith of equal intensity, 
the struggle becomes very severe, and success under 


these conditions is determined by accessory circum- 
stances, most often of a moral order, by the spirit of 
discipline or the better organisation. A close study 
of the history of the Arabs, just referred to, shows 
that on the occasion of their earlier conquests and 
these conquests are always the most difficult and the 
most important they encountered adversaries who 
were morally weak, although their military organisa- 
tion was fairly good. Syria was the first country 
they invaded. All they met there was Byzantine 
armies composed of mercenaries, but little disposed 
to sacrifice themselves for any cause whatever. 
Animated by an intense faith which increased their 
strength tenfold, they dispersed these troops who 
lacked an ideal as easily as before their time a 
handful of Greeks, sustained by love of their city, 
had dispersed the innumerable soldiers of Xerxes. 
The upshot of their enterprise would have been quite 
different if they had come into collision a few 
centuries earlier with the Roman cohorts. It is 
evident that when equally powerful moral forces are 
pitted against one another, victory rests with the 
side that is best organised. The faith of the Vendeans 
was assuredly most ardent, they were most energeti- 
cally convinced ; but the convictions of the soldiers 



of the Convention were also very strong, and as their 
military organisation was the better, they gained the 

In religion, as in politics, success always goes to 
those who believe, never to those who are sceptical, 
and if at the present day it would seem as if the 
future belongs to the Socialists, in spite of the 
dangerous absurdity of their dogmas, the reason is 
that they are now the only party possessing real 
convictions. The modern governing classes have 
lost faith in everything. They no longer believe in 
anything, not even in the possibility of defending 
themselves against the threatening flood of barbarians, 
by which they are surrounded on all sides. 

When an idea, after a longer or shorter period of 
tentative existence, modifications, deformations, dis- 
cussion and propaganda, has acquired its definite form 
and penetrated the soul of the masses, it constitutes a 
dogma, that is one of those absolute truths which are 
no longer discussed. It then forms part of those 
general beliefs on which the existence of peoples is 
based. Its universal character allows it to play a 
preponderating role. The great epochs of history, 
the century of Augustus or that of Louis XIV., have 
been those in which ideas, leaving their tentative 


period and getting beyond discussion, have taken 
fixed shape and become the sovereign masters of the 
thought of men. They then become brilliant beacons, 
and everything they illumine assumes a similar hue. 

As soon as a new idea has triumphed, it leaves its 
mark on all the elements of civilisation, including the 
least important ; but in order that it shall produce its 
full effect it is necessary that it should have pene- 
trated the soul of the masses. From the intellectual 
heights on which it came into being, it descends from 
grade to grade, undergoing on the way incessant 
alterations and modifications until it has taken a 
shape in which it is accessible to the popular soul 
that is to secure its triumph. At this point it is 
met with concentrated in a very few words, some- 
times in a single word, but this word evokes powerful 
images, either seductive or terrible, but always on 
this account impressive. Examples are the words 
Paradise and Hell in the Middle Ages, brief syllables 
which have the magic power of corresponding with 
everything, and for simple souls of explaining every- 
thing. The word Socialism represents for the modern 
working man one of those magical and synthetic 
formulae capable of exerting an empire over souls. 
It evokes images which vary with the masses which it 


penetrates, but which are powerful in spite of their 
rudimentary forms. 

For the French theoretician the word Socialism 
evokes the image of a sort of Paradise, in which men, 
become equal, will enjoy ideal felicity under the 
incessant direction of the State. For the German 
working man the image evoked presents itself under 
the guise of a smoky tavern in which the Government 
will serve gratuitously to every comer gigantic 
pyramids of sausages and sauerkraut and unlimited 
pots of beer. None among those who dream either 
of sauerkraut or of equality have ever of course been 
at pains to find out the sum total of what there is 
to be divided or the number of those who are there to 
share it. The essential characteristic of an idea of 
this kind is that it assumes an absolute shape that 
raises it above all objection. 

When the idea has come to transform itself little 
by little into a sentiment, and has become a dogma, 
its triumph is assured for a long time, and all attempts 
to shake it by reasoning will be vain. Doubtless in 
the end the new idea will undergo the fate of the 
idea whose place it has taken. It will grow old and 
decline ; but before it is completely used up it will 
have to undergo an entire series of retrograde trans- 


formations, of deformations of every kind, which will 
demand several generations for their accomplishment. 
Before dying out entirely, it will for long form part of 
those old hereditary ideas which we style prejudices, 
but which we nevertheless respect. An old idea, even 
though it has become a mere word, a sound, a 
mirage, possesses a magical power by which we are 
still subjugated. 

In this way is kept up that old inheritance of 
antiquated ideas, opinions, and conventions which we 
accept without demur, though they would offer but 
little resistance to an effort of the reason, if we would 
consent for an instant to discuss them. But how many 
men are capable of discussing their own opinions, 
and how many of these opinions would hold water 
after the most superficial examination ? 

It is better that the redoubtable examination 
should not be attempted. Happily there is little risk 
of our undertaking it. The critical spirit constituting 
a higher faculty that is very rare, whereas the spirit 
of imitation is a faculty very commonly possessed, the 
immense majority of minds accept without discussion 
the ready-made ideas furnished them by opinion and 
transmitted them by education. 

It thus happens that by means of heredity, educa- 


tion, surroundings, contagion and opinion, the men of 
each age and of each race possess a sum of average 
conceptions which render them singularly like one 
another, alike indeed to such a degree that, when the 
lapse of centuries allows us to consider them from 
the proper perspective, we recognise by their artistic, 
philosophical, and literary productions the epoch at 
which they lived. Doubtless it could not be said that 
they copied one another absolutely, but as they had 
in common identical modes of feeling and thinking, 
they were necessarily led to produce very kindred 

We must congratulate ourselves that matters are 
thus arranged, for it is precisely this network of 
common traditions, ideas, sentiments, beliefs, and 
modes of thinking that form the soul of a people. 
We have seen that the vigour of the soul of a people 
is in proportion to the strength of this network. It 
is this network in reality, and it alone, that keeps 
nations alive, and it is impossible that it should break 
up without the nations crumbling away. It consti- 
tutes at once their true force and their true master. 
Asiatic sovereigns are sometimes represented as kinds 
of despots whose fantasy is their only guide. These 
fantasies, on the contrary, have singularly narrow 


limits. The network of traditions is more especially 
powerful in the East. Religious traditions, so en- 
feebled amongst ourselves, retain all their empire in 
the East, and the most whimsical despot would never 
run counter to two sovereigns he knows are infinitely 
more powerful than he is : tradition and opinion. 

The modern civilised man finds himself in one of 
those rare critical periods of history in which the old 
ideas, whence his civilisation is derived, having lost their 
empire, and the new ideas not being formed as yet, 
discussion is tolerated. He must go back to the ' 
periods of the civilisations of antiquity, or merely some 
two or three centuries back, to get an idea of the 
nature in those ages of the yoke of custom and 
opinion, and to learn the risks run by innovators 
sufficiently bold to attack these two powers. The 
Greeks, whom ignorant rhetoricians affirm to have 
been so free, were strictly subjected to the yoke 
of opinion and custom. Each citizen had a number 
of absolutely inviolable beliefs ; none would have 
thought of discussing received ideas, which were 
accepted without demur. The Grecian world was 
unacquainted with religious liberty, with the liberty 
of private life, or with liberties of any kind. The 
Athenian law did not even allow the citizen to keep 


aloof from the assemblies, or not to celebrate re- 
ligiously a national fete. The alleged liberty of the 
ancient world was nothing but the unconscious and, 
in consequence, absolute form of the entire subjection 
of the citizen to the yoke of the ideas of his city. In 
the state of general war in which societies then lived, 
a society whose members should have possessed 
liberty of thought and action would not have lasted a 
single day. The age of decadence for gods, institu- 
tions, and dogmas has always begun as soon as they 
have been exposed to discussion. 

In modern civilisations, the old ideas which form 
the basis of custom and opinion having been almost 
destroyed, their empire over souls has become very 
weak. They have entered on that worn-out phase 
in which old ideas are in process of becoming pre- 
judices. As long as they are not replaced by a new 
idea, anarchy reigns in men's minds. It is only 
thanks to this anarchy that discussion can be 
tolerated. Writers, thinkers, and philosopher sought 
to bless the present age and hasten to take advantage 
of it, for they will not see its like again. It is perhaps 
an age of decadence, but it is one of those rare 
moments in the history of the world during which 
expression of thought is free. It is impossible that 


it should last. Given the present conditions of civili- 
sation, the European peoples are tending towards 
a social state which will tolerate neither discussion 
nor liberty. The new dogmas that are about to come 
into being cannot establish themselves, except on the 
condition that they accept no discussions of any kind, 
and that they be as intolerant as the dogmas that 
have preceded them. 

The man of the present day is still searching for 
the ideas that shall serve as the basis of the future 
social state, and therein lies the danger he runs. 
What is important in the history of peoples, and 
what has a far-reaching influence on their destiny, 
is neither revolutions nor wars their ruins are 
quickly effaced but the changes in their fundamental 
ideas. They cannot be accomplished without all the 
elements of a civilisation undergoing of necessity 
a simultaneous transformation. The real revolutions, 
the only revolutions that endanger the existence of a 
people, are those which affect its thought. 

It is not so much the adoption of new ideas that is 
dangerous for a people, as the trying of various 
ideas in succession to which it is condemned before it 
finds the idea on which it will be able to build up 
sufficiently solidly the new social edifice that is to 


replace the old. It is not assuredly because an idea 
is erroneous that it is dangerous the religious ideas 
on which we have existed up to now were most 
erroneous but it is because long repeated experi- 
ments are necessary to make it certain that the new 
ideas can be adapted to the needs of the societies 
that adopt them. The masses unhappily can only 
appreciate their degree of utility by dint of 
experience. Without doubt, there is no need to be a 
great psychologist or a great economist to predict 
that the application of existing, socialist ideas will 
lead the peoples who adopt them to a state of abject 
decadence and shameful despotism ; but how are the 
people it charms to be prevented from accepting 
the New Gospel that is preached to them ? 

History contains frequent examples of the cost of 
essaying ideas that are inacceptable for an epoch, but 
it is not to history that man goes for lessons. 
Charlemagne endeavoured in vain to re-establish the 
Roman Empire, but the idea of unity was not 
realisable at the time, and his work perished with 
him, as that of Napoleon was destined to perish at a 
later period. Philip II. uselessly wasted his genius, 
and the strength of Spain the predominant country 
at the time in an effort to combat the spirit of free 


inquiry which was spreading through Europe under 
the name of Protestantism. This opposition to the 
new idea merely resulted in reducing Spain to a state 
of ruin and decadence from which it has never 
recovered. In our own time, the chimerical ideas of 
a crowned visionary, inspired by the incurable 
international sentimentalism of his race, have brought 
about the unity of Italy and Germany, and have cost 
us two provinces, while endangering the peace of 
Europe for a long time to come. The utterly false 
idea that numbers constitute the strength of armies 
has covered Europe with a sort of armed national 
guard, and is leading up to its inevitable bankruptcy. 
The socialist ideas with regard to labour, capital, the 
transformation of private property into State property, 
etc., will prove the destruction of the peoples that 
permanent armies and bankruptcy shall have spared. 
The principle of nationalities, formerly so dear to 
statesmen that they based their entire policy on it, 
may further be cited among the leading ideas, whose 
dangerous influence has had to be undergone. Its 
realisation has involved Europe in the most disastrous 
war, has armed it from one end to the other, and will 
land all modern states in succession in ruin and 
anarchy. The only apparent motive that could be 


invoked in defence of this principle was that the 
largest and most populous countries are the strongest, 
and run the fewest risks. It was secretly reflected 
that they were the best fitted to embark on conquest. 
It is found, however, to-day, that it is precisely the 
smallest and least populous countries Portugal, 
Greece, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, the petty 
Balkan principalities that have the least to fear 
from their neighbours. The idea of unity has so 
completely ruined Italy, formerly so prosperous, that 
it is on the eve of a revolution and of bankruptcy. 
The annual budgetary expenditure of all the Italian 
States, which before the realisation of Italian unity 
amounted to 550 millions now reaches two milliards. 
It is not given, however, to men to stop the march 
of ideas when they have penetrated the soul of the 
masses. When they have done this, their evolution 
must be accomplished, and it often happens that they 
are defended by those who will be their first victims. 
It is not sheep merely that docilely follow their guide 
to the slaughter-house. We must bow before the 
strength of an idea. When it has attained to a 
certain period of its evolution, there are no longer 
either arguments or demonstrations that can avail 
against it. For peoples to be able to free themselves 


from the yoke of an idea, either centuries or violent 
revolutions are necessary ; sometimes the two. 
Innumerable are the chimeras humanity has forged 
for itself and of which in succession it has been the 



Preponderating influence of religious ideas They have always 
constituted the most important element of the life of peoples 
Religious ideas responsible for the majority of historical events and 
social and political institutions A new civilisation always comes 
into existence with a new religious idea Power of the religious 
ideal Its influence on character It directs all the faculties 
towards the same end The political, artistic, and literary history 
of peoples is the offspring of their beliefs The slightest change in 
the state of a people's belief results in an entire series of 
transformations in its existence Various examples. 

AMONG the various ideas by which the peoples 
have been guided, the ideas which are the 
beacons of history, the poles of civilisation, religious 
ideas have played too preponderating and too 
fundamental a part for us not to devote a special 
chapter to them. 

Religious beliefs have always constituted the most 
important element of the life of peoples, and in 

consequence of their history. The most considerable 



historical events, those which have had the most 
colossal influence, have been the birth and death of 
gods. With a new religious idea a new civilisation 
is born into the world. At all the ages of humanity, 
in ancient times as in modern times, the fundamental 
questions have always been religious questions. If 
humanity could allow all its gods to die, it might be 
said of such an event that, as regards its consequences, 
it would be the most important event that had taken 
place on the surface of our planet since the birth of 
the first civilisations. 

For it must not be forgotten that, since the dawn 
of historical times, all political and social institutions 
have been founded on religious beliefs, and that the 
gods have always played the first role on the world's 
stage. Apart from love, which itself is a powerful 
but personal and transitory religion, it is only 
religious beliefs that are capable of influencing 
character in a rapid manner. The conquests of the 
Arabs, the Crusades, Spain under the Inquisition, 
England during the Puritan period, France with its 
St. Bartholomew, and the wars of the revolution 
show what becomes of a people rendered fanatic by 
its chimeras. These chimeras exercise a sort of 
permanent hypnotic effect which is so intense that it 


profoundly transforms the entire mental constitution. 
Doubtless it is man who created the gods, but after 
having created them he promptly became their slave. 
They are not the offspring of fear, as Lucretius 
affirms, but of hope, and for this reason their influence 
will be eternal. 

The gift of the gods to man, and it is a gift which 
they alone have been able to endow him with up to 
now, is a state of mind which allows of happiness. 
No philosophy has ever been able as yet to realise 
such an achievement. 

The consequence, if not the aim, of all civilisations, 
of all philosophies, of all religions is to engender 
certain states of mind. But of these states of mind 
some imply happiness, while the others do not 
Happiness depends very little on exterior circum- 
stances, and to a very great extent on our disposition 
of spirit. The martyrs at the stake were probably 
much happier than their executioners. The street- 
sweeper who, devoid of care, eats his crust of bread 
rubbed with garlic may be infinitely happier than the 
millionaire who is a prey to manifold anxieties. 

The evolution of civilisation has unhappily created 
for the modern man a multitude of wants, without 
giving him the means of satisfying them, and in this 


way has promoted general discontent. Civilisation is 
doubtless the mother of progress, but it is the 
mother as well of Socialism and Anarchism, those 
redoubtable expressions of the despair of the masses 
that are no longer sustained by any belief. Compare 
the restless, feverish European, discontented with his 
lot, with the Oriental, always satisfied with his 
destiny. In what do they differ, if not as regards the 
state of their soul ? A people has been transformed 
when its mode of conceiving and, in consequence, of 
thinking and acting has been transformed. 

Under penalty of being unable to last for long, the 
primary duty of a society is to endeavour to find the 
means of creating a state of mind which shall render 
man happy. All the societies founded up to the 
present have had as their basis an ideal capable of 
subjugating men's souls, and they have always 
disappeared as soon as this ideal has ceased to 
subjugate them. 

One of the great errors of modern times is the 
belief that it is only in exterior things that the human 
soul can find happiness. Happiness is within us, 
created by ourselves, and scarcely ever outside 
ourselves. After having destroyed the ideals of past 
ages, we are now finding that it is not possible to 



live without them, and that the secret of replacing 
them must be discovered, if we would continue to 

The true benefactors of humanity, those who 
merit colossal statues in gold raised in their honour 
by grateful peoples, are those powerful magicians, the 
creators of ideals, whom humanity sometimes 
produces, but whom it produces so rarely. Above 
the torrent of vain appearances, standing forth the 
only realities man can ever know, above the inexorable, 
the glacial mechanism of the world, they have evoked 
powerful and pacifying chimeras, which hide from 
man the sombre sides of his destiny, and create for 
him enchanted refuges of dreams and hope. 

From the exclusively political standpoint, too, it is 
found that the influence of religious beliefs is immense. 
What makes their irresistible force is that they 
constitute the only factor which can momentarily 
procure a people absolute community of interests, 
sentiments, and thoughts. In this way the religious 
spirit replaces at one stroke the slow hereditary 
accumulation necessary to form the soul of a nation, 
The people that is subjugated by a belief does not 
doubtless change its mental constitution, but all its 
faculties are directed towards the same end the 


triumph of its belief and solely in virtue of this fact 
its strength becomes formidable. It is at epochs of 
ardent faith that peoples, momentarily transformed, 
accomplish those prodigious efforts, found those 
empires which are the astonishment of history. It 
was thus that a few Arab tribes, unified by the 
thought of Mahomet, conquered in a few years nations 
who ignored their very names, and founded their 
immense empire. 

It is not the quality of the beliefs that must be 
taken into consideration, but the sway they exert 
over men's souls. Whether the god invoked be 
Moloch, or some other yet more barbarous divinity, 
is of no importance. It is even well for the prestige 
of the divinity that it should be wholly intolerant and 
barbarous. Gods too tolerant or too mild lend their 
worshippers no strength. The sectaries of the stern 
Mahomet ruled for long over a great portion of the 
world, and are still redoubtable ; those of pacific 
Buddha have never founded anything durable, and 
are already forgotten by history. 

The religious spirit then has played a political 
role of capital importance in the existence of peoples, 
because it was always the only factor capable of 
influencing their character in a short space of time. 


The gods, no doubt, are not immortal, but the 
religious spirit is eternal. It may slumber for a 
while, but it awakes as soon as a new divinity is 
created. A century ago it enabled France to resist 
victoriously the onslaughts of all Europe up in arms. 
Once more the world has had the spectacle of what 
may be accomplished by the religious spirit, for it 
was indeed a new religion that was founded at the 
period in question, and that inspired an entire people. 
The divinities that blossomed forth were, doubtless, 
too fragile to last, but so long as they lasted they 
exerted absolute sway. 

The power of transforming souls possessed by 
religions is, however, somewhat ephemeral. It is 
rare for beliefs to retain for any length of time that 
degree of intensity which entirely transforms char- 
acter. The dream ends by growing more shadowy, 
the hypnotised people awakes in a measure, and the 
old substratum of character again comes to the front. 

Even in cases where the beliefs are all powerful 
the national character is always recognisable in the 
manner in which these beliefs are adopted and in the 
manifestations they provoke. What differences there 
are between the same belief as found in England, 
Spain, or France, Would the Reformation ever have 


been possible in Spain, or would England ever have 
consented to submit to the terrible yoke of the 
Inquisition ? Among the peoples who have adopted 
the reformed faith is it not easy to perceive the 
fundamental characteristics of races which, in spite of 
the hypnotising action of their beliefs, have preserved 
the special features of their mental constitution : in- 
dependence, energy, the habit of reasoning, and of not 
obeying servilely the law of a master ? 

The political, artistic, and literary history of peoples 
is the offspring of their beliefs ; but these latter, while 
they modify the character, are also profoundly modi- 
fied by it. The character of a people and its beliefs 
are the keys of its destiny. The former, as regards 
its fundamental elements, is invariable, and it is pre- 
cisely because it does not vary that the history of a 
people always retains a certain unity. The beliefs, on 
the other hand, may vary, and it is because they vary 
that history records so many upheavals. 

The slightest change in the state of a people's 
beliefs necessarily results in an entire series of trans- 
formations in its existence. We remarked in a previous 
chapter that in France the men of the eighteenth 
century seemed very different from those of the 
seventeenth century. Doubtless, but what was the 


origin of this difference ? Solely the fact that in the 
lapse of a century theology had given way to science, 
reason had taken the place of tradition, and observed 
truth that of revealed truth. By this simple change 
of conceptions the aspect of a century is transformed, 
and were we to follow its effects we should find that 
our great Revolution, together with the events that 
have since occurred and are still in progress, are 
the mere consequence of an evolution of religious 

Moreover, if at the present day our old society 
totters on its foundations and finds all its institutions 
profoundly shaken, the reason is that it is losing more 
and more the beliefs on which it had existed up till 
now. When it shall have lost them entirely, a new 
civilisation, founded on a new faith, will necessarily 
take its place. History shows us that peoples do not 
long survive the disappearance of their gods. The 
civilisations that are born with them also die with 
them. There is nothing so destructive as the dust 
of dead gods. 



The great advances made by each civilisation have always been 
realised by a small elite of superior minds Nature of their role 
They synthesise all the efforts of a race Examples supplied by 
great discoveries Political role of great men They embody the 
dominant ideal of their race Influence of the great hallucinated 
Inventors of genius transform a civilisation The fanatics and 
the hallucinated make history. 

WHEN studying the hierarchy and the differ- 
entiation of races, we saw that what most 
differentiates Europeans from Orientals is that only 
the former possess an elite of superior men. Let us 
now endeavour to trace in a few lines the limits of the 
role of this Mite. 

The small phalanx of eminent men possessed by a 
civilised people a phalanx it would suffice to suppress 
in each generation to lower considerably the intellec- 
tual level of that people constitutes the true incarna- 



tion of the forces of a race. To it is due the progress 
realised in the sciences, the arts, in industry, in a 
word, in all the branches of civilisation. 

History shows that it is to this circumscribed elite 
that we owe all the advances made. Although they 
profit by these advances, the masses do not like being 
surpassed, and the greatest thinkers and inventors 
have often been their martyrs. And yet all the 
generations, all the past of a race, blossom forth in 
these splendid geniuses which are the marvellous 
flowers of a race. They are the true glory of a 
nation, each member of which, down to the most 
humble, is entitled to be proud of them. They do 
not appear by chance or by a miracle, but represent 
the crowning point of a long past. They synthesise 
the greatness of their time and of their race. To 
favour their production and development is to favour 
the achievement of those advances of which humanity 
will reap the benefit. If we allow ourselves to be too 
much blinded by our dreams of universal equality we 
shall be the first victims of our attitude. Equality 
carries inferiority in its wake ; it is the dull, oppressive 
dream of vulgar mediocrities. It has only been 
realised in barbarous epochs. For equality to reign 
in the world, it would be necessary to bring down, 


little by little, whatever makes the value of a race to 
the level of what is least elevated in the race. 

But while the role of superior men in the develop- 
ment of a civilisation is considerable, it is not, how- 
ever, quite what it is generally said to be. Their 
action consists, I repeat, in synthesising all the efforts 
of a race ; their discoveries are always the result of a 
long series of anterior discoveries ; they build an edifice 
with the stones which others have slowly hewn. 
Historians, who in general are very simple-minded, 
have always thought it right to connect the name of 
a man with each invention ; and yet, of the great 
inventions which have transformed the world, such as 
printing, gunpowder, steam, or the electric telegraph, 
there is not one of which it can be said that it was 
created by a single brain. When the genesis of dis- 
coveries of this kind are studied, it is always found that 
they are the outcome of a long series of preparatory 
efforts : the final invention is only the crowning 
stroke. Galileo's observation of the isochronism of 
the oscillations of a suspended lamp paved the way 
for the invention of chronometers, which were to enable 
sailors to trace their route across the ocean with 
certainty. Gunpowder resulted from slow trans- 
formations of Grecian fire. The steam engine repre- 


sents the sum of a series of inventions, each of which 
demanded immense labour. A Greek, had he had a 
hundred times as much genius as Archimedes, would 
have been unable to discover the locomotive engine. 
Could he have discovered it, moreover, the discovery 
would have been of no use to him, as, to fabricate his 
engine, he would have had to wait until mechanics 
had realised advances which it took two thousand 
years of efforts to achieve. 

The political role of great statesmen, while it is 
apparently more independent of the past, is, never- 
theless, scarcely less dependent thereon than is the 
role of great inventors. Blinded by the dazzling 
brilliancy of the powerful leaders of men who have 
transformed the political existence of peoples, such 
writers as Hegel, Cousin, Carlyle, &c., have wished to 
make of them demi-gods, whose unaided genius has 
modified the destiny of peoples. Beyond doubt they 
can affect the evolution of a society, but it is not 
given to them to change its course. The genius of a 
Cromwell or a Napoleon is powerless to achieve such 
a task. Great conquerors can destroy towns, men, 
and empires by fire and sword as a child can set fire 
to a museum filled with art treasures ; but this de- 
structive power must not deceive us as to the nature 


of their role. The influence of great politicians is 
only durable when, as in the case of Caesar or 
Richelieu, they contrive to give their efforts a direc- 
tion in harmony with the needs of the moment ; the 
true cause of their success is generally much anterior 
to themselves. Had he made the attempt two or 
three centuries earlier, Caesar would not have made 
the great Roman Republic accept the law of a master, 
and under the same conditions Richelieu would have 
been unable to realise the unity of France. In 
politics the really great men are those who have a 
presentiment of the needs that are about to arise, of 
the events for which the past has paved the way, and 
who show their fellows the direction that has got to 
be taken. This direction, perhaps, was clear to 
nobody, but the fatalities of evolution were soon to 
engage therein the peoples whose destinies were 
momentarily in the hands of these powerful geniuses. 
They, too, like the great inventors, synthesise the 
results of a long anterior evolution. 

These analogies between the different categories of 
great men must not be carried too far. The inventors 
play an important part in the future evolution of a 
civilisation, but no immediate role in the political his- 
tory of peoples. The superior men to whom are due 


the important discoveries, from the plough to the 
telegraph, which are the common patrimony of 
humanity, have never possessed the qualities of 
character requisite for the founding of a religion or 
the conquest of an empire, necessary, that is, to 
change visibly the face of history. The thinker is 
too alive to the complexity of problems ever to have 
very strong convictions, and too few political ends 
seem to him worthy of his efforts for him to attempt 
to realise any one of them. Inventors may modify 
a civilisation in the long run ; it is only fanatics, men 
of narrow intelligence, but energetic character and 
powerful passions, who are capable of founding 
religions and empires. At the bidding of a Peter 
the Hermit millions of men hurled themselves against 
the East ; the words of an hallucinated enthusiast 
such as Mahomet created a force capable of triumph- 
ing over the old Greco-Roman world ; an obscure 
monk like Luther bathed Europe in blood. The 
voice of a Galileo or a Newton will never have the 
least echo among the masses. The inventors of 
genius hasten the march of civilisation. The fanatics 
and the hallucinated create history. 

For of what is history, as written in books, 
composed, if not of the long narrative of man's 


struggles to create an ideal, to worship it, and 
then to destroy it ? And, in the eyes of science, 
have such ideals more value than the vain mirages 
created by the action of light on the moving sands 
of the desert? 

Still it is the hallucinated, the creators or propa- 
gators of these mirages, who have effected the most 
far-reaching transformations in the world. From the 
depth of their tombs they still inflict the yoke of 
their thoughts on the soul of races, and influence the 
character and destiny of peoples. The importance of 
their role must not be overlooked ; but, at the same 
time, it must not be forgotten that the task they 
accomplished was successfully accomplished because 
they unconsciously embodied and expressed the ideal 
of their race and their epoch. A people is only led 
by those who embody its dreams. Moses represented 
for the Jews the desire for deliverance over which 
they had brooded during the years that they were 
slaves lacerated by the whips of the Egyptians. 
Buddha and Jesus were alive to the infinite miseries 
of their time, and gave a religious shape to the need 
for charity and pity, which, at these periods of 
universal suffering, were coming into existence in the 
world. Mahomet realised by means of unity of belief 


the political unity of a people divided into thousands 
of rival tribes. That soldier of genius, Napoleon, 
embodied the ideal of military glory, of vanity, and 
of revolutionary propaganda, which at the time were 
the characteristics of the people he led all over 
Europe during fifteen years in pursuit of wild 

At bottom, then, it is ideas, and in consequence 
those who embody and propagate them that rule the 
world. Their triumph is assured when they are 
defended by the hallucinated and by enthusiasts. 
It is of slight importance whether they be true or 
false. History ever teaches us that it is the most 
chimerical ideas that have had the most fanatical 
following and played the most important role. It is 
in the name of the most illusory chimeras that the 
world has been hitherto thrown into confusion, that 
civilisations which seemed imperishable have been 
destroyed, and that others have been founded. It 
is not, as the Gospel assures us, the kingdom of 
heaven, but of the earth, that belongs to the poor 
in spirit, only provided they possess the faith that 
moves mountains. Philosophers, who often have to 
devote centuries to destroying what enthusiasts have 
created in a day, ought to bow before those who are 


capable of such feats. The enthusiasts form part of 
the mysterious forces that shape the world. They 
have determined the most important of the events of 
which history records the course. 

Doubtless they have only propagated illusions, but 
it is on these illusions, at once redoubtable, seductive, 
and vain, that humanity has hitherto existed, and 
doubtless will continue to exist. These illusions are 
mere shadows, but they must nevertheless be 
respected. Thanks to them our forefathers knew 
what hope was, and in their heroic and wild pursuit 
of these shadows they raised us from our primitive 
state of barbarism to the point we have reached to- 
day. Of all the factors in the development of 
civilisations, illusions are perhaps the most powerful. 
It was an illusion that built up the pyramids, and 
covered Egypt for five thousand years with colossal 
stone monuments. It was an illusion that, in the 
Middle Ages, raised our gigantic cathedrals, and 
induced the Western world to dispute the possession 
of a tomb with the East. It is the pursuit of illusions 
that has founded the religions which exert their 
sway over a half of humanity, and founded or 
destroyed the vastest empires. It is not in the 
pursuit of truth but in that of error that humanity 


has expended the most efforts. It could not attain 
the chimerical goals it had in view ; but it was in 
trying to attain them that it realised all the progress 
it had no thought of achieving. 








Dissolution of psychological species How hereditary dispositions 
which had required centuries for their formation may be rapidly 
lost A very long time is always necessary for a people to raise 
itself to a high level of civilisation, and in some cases a very 
short time for it to descend therefrom The principal factor in 
the decadence of a people is the lowering of its character The 
mechanism of the dissolution of civilisations has hitherto been 
the same for all peoples Symptoms of decadence presented by 
some Latin peoples Development of egoism Diminution of 
initiative and will power Lowering of character and morality 
The youth of the present day Probable influence of Socialism 
Its dangers and its strength How it will cause the civilisations 
that undergo it to return to wholly barbarous forms of evolution 
The peoples among whom it will be able to triumph. 

T)SYCHOLOGICAL species are not eternal any 
A more than are anatomical species. The con- 
ditions of environment which maintain the fixity of 
their characteristics do not last for ever. If the 


environment is modified, the elements of the mental 
constitution which it has determined end by under- 
going retrograde transformations which lead up to 
their disappearance. In accordance with physio- 
logical laws, as applicable to the cells of the brain 
as to those of the body, and observed in all beings, 
the organs take infinitely less time to disappear than 
was required for their formation. Every organ that 
does not fulfil its function soon ceases to be able to 
fulfil it. The eyes of fish that live in the lakes of 
caverns lose the power of sight after a time, and this 
infirmity ends by becoming hereditary. Indeed, 
even if observation be confined to the brief life of the 
individual, an organ that has, perhaps, demanded 
thousands of centuries for its formation by slow 
adaptations and hereditary accumulations, is rapidly 
stricken with atrophy when it ceases to be used. 

The mental constitution of beings cannot escape 
these physiological laws. The brain cell that is not 
utilised ceases to fulfil its functions, and mental 
dispositions it took centuries to form may be 
promptly lost. Courage, initiative, energy, the spirit 
of enterprise, and various qualities of character that 
were a long time in being acquired disappear quickly 
enough when they cease to be exercised. This fact 


explains how it is that a people always requires a 
very long time to raise itself to a high level of culture, 
and in some cases a very short time to descend into 
the abyss of decadence. 

When the causes are examined that led to the 
successive ruin of the various peoples with which 
history is concerned, whether the people in question 
be the Persians, the Romans, or any other nation, 
the fundamental factor in their fall is always found 
to be a change in their mental constitution resulting 
from the deterioration of their character. I cannot 
call to mind a single people that has disappeared in 
consequence of the deterioration of its intelligence. 

For all the civilisations of the past the mechanism 
of dissolution has been identical, so identical, indeed, 
that it may be asked with the poet, whether history, 
which has so many books, has but a single page. 
When a people reaches that degree of civilisation and 
power at which it is assured that it is no longer 
exposed to the attacks of its neighbours, it begins to 
enjoy the benefits of peace and material well-being 
procured by wealth. At this juncture the military 
virtues decline, the excess of civilisation creates new 
needs, and egoism increases. Having no ideal 
beyond the hasty enjoyment of rapidly acquired 


advantages, the citizens abandon to the State the 
care of public affairs, and soon lose all the qualities 
that had made their greatness. Then barbarian, or 
semi-barbarian neighbours, whose needs are few, but 
who are strongly attached to an ideal, invade the too 
civilised people, and proceed to form a new civilisation 
with the debris of that which they have overthrown. 
It was in this way that, in spite of the formidable 
organisations of the Romans and Persians, the 
barbarians destroyed the Empire of the former and 
the Arabs that of the latter. It was not in the 
qualities appertaining to the intelligence that the 
invaded peoples were lacking. From this point of 
view no comparison was possible between the con- 
querors and the conquered. It was when Rome 
already bore within it the germs of its approaching 
decadence that it counted the greatest number of 
men of culture, artists, men of letters, and men of 
learning. Almost all the works that have made its 
greatness date from this period of its history. But 
Rome had lost that fundamental element which no 
development of the intelligence can replace : character. 1 

lu The evil from which Roman society was then suffering," writes 
M. Fustel de Coulanges, "was not the corruption of its morals ; it was 
the weakening of its will power, and, so to speak, the enervation of its 


The old-time Romans had very few wants and a very 
strong ideal. This ideal the greatness of Rome 
absolutely dominated their souls, and each citizen was 
ready to sacrifice to it his family, his fortune, and his 
life. When Rome had become the pole of the 
universe, the richest city of the world, it was invaded 
by foreigners hailing from all countries, and whom it 
admitted in the end to rights of citizenship. As all 
they demanded was to be allowed to enjoy the 
luxury of Rome, they had but little concern for its 
glory. The great city then became an immense 
caravansary, but was no longer Rome. It seemed 
to be still alive, but its soul had long been 

Analogous causes of decadence threaten our hyper- 
refined civilisations, which are menaced, however, as 
well by other causes due to the evolution produced 
in men's minds by modern scientific discoveries. 
Science has renewed our ideas, and deprived our 
religious and social conceptions of all authority. 
It has shown man the trifling place he occupies in the 
universe, and the utter indifference of Nature towards 
him. He has perceived that what he used to term 
liberty was merely ignorance of the causes of which 
he is the slave, and that in view of the inexorable 


necessities of which they are the puppets, to be 
slaves is the natural condition of all living beings. 
He has learned that nature ignores what we term 
pity, and that all the progress it has realised 
has been due to a pitiless process of selection that 
involves the perpetual crushing of the weak by the 

All these harsh and glacial conceptions, so contrary 
to the teachings of the old beliefs that enchanted our 
forefathers, have given birth to ominous conflicts in 
men's souls. In vulgar brains they have engendered 
that state of anarchy as regards his ideas which seems 
characteristic of the modern man. In the case of the 
young generation of artists and men of letters, these 
same conflicts have resulted in a sort of sullen in- 
difference that is fatal to the will, in an utter 
incapacity to embrace any cause whatever with 
enthusiasm, and in an exclusive cult of immediate 
and personal interests. 

Commenting upon a very just reflection of a modern 
writer to the effect that the " sense of the relative 
dominates contemporary thought," a Minister of 
Public Instruction proclaimed with evident satis- 
faction in a recent speech that "the substitution of 
relative ideas for abstract notions in every field of 


human knowledge is the greatest conquest of science." 
The conquest declared to be new is in reality very 
old. It was achieved many centuries ago by the 
philosophers of India. Let us not be too ready to 
congratulate ourselves that it is tending at the present 
day to gain ground. The real danger to modern 
societies lies precisely in the fact that men have lost 
confidence in the worth of the principles that serve as 
their foundations. I greatly doubt whether it would 
be possible to cite in all history a single civilisation, 
a single institution, a single belief that has succeeded 
in holding its own by taking its stand on principles 
esteemed to have only a relative value. Moreover, if 
the future seems to belong to those socialist doctrines 
which reason condemns, it is because they are the 
only doctrines whose upholders speak in the name of 
truths they declare to be absolute. The masses will 
always turn towards those who speak to them of 
absolute truths, and will slight all others. To be a 
statesman, it is necessary to be able to penetrate the 
soul of the multitude, to understand its dreams, 
and to renounce philosophic abstractions. Things 
in themselves change but little. It is only the ideas 
that are formed of them that change greatly. It is 
on these ideas that it is needful to know how to act. 


Doubtless our knowledge of the real world is 
limited to appearances, to mere states of conscience 
of which the value is evidently relative. But when 
we adopt the social standpoint, we can say that for a 
given age and a given society there are conditions of 
existence, moral laws, and institutions which have an 
absolute value, since the society in question could not 
subsist without them. As soon as this value is called 
in question, or doubt enters men's minds, the society 
is condemned to an early death. 

The truths just enunciated may be inculcated 
without fear, for they are among those which no 
science can contest. Contrary language can only 
bring about the most disastrous consequences. The 
philosophic Nihilism, propagated at the present day 
by authorised voices among weak minds, induces 
them to believe at once in the absolute injustice of 
our social system and in the absurdity of all 
monarchies, inspires them with a hatred of all that 
exists, and leads them directly to socialism and 
anarchism. Modern statesmen are too persuaded 
of the influence of institutions and too little of the 
influence of ideas. And yet science shows them that 
the former are always the offspring of the latter, and 
have never been able to subsist without leaning on 


them as a foundation. Ideas represent the invisible 
springs of things. When they have disappeared 
the underlying supports of constitutions and civilisa- 
tions are destroyed. It was always a redoubtable 
moment for a people when its old ideas descended 
into the sombre necropolis where the dead gods 

Going on from the causes to study the effects, it 
has to be admitted that visible decadence seriously 
threatens the vitality of the majority of the great 
European nations, and especially of those known as 
the Latin nations, and really Latin nations, if not as 
regards their blood, at least as regards their traditions 
and education. Every day they are losing their 
initiative, their energy, their will, and their capacity 
to act. The satisfaction of perpetually growing 
material wants tends to become their sole ideal. 
The family is breaking up, the social springs are 
strained. Discontent and unrest are spreading to 
all classes, from the richest to the poorest. Like the 
ship that has lost its compass, and strays as chance 
and the winds direct, the modern man wanders at 
haphazard through the spaces formerly peopled by 
the gods and rendered a desert by science. He has 
lost his faith, and with it his hopes. The masses, 


grown excessively impressionable and changeable, 
and no longer kept in check by any barrier, seem 
fated to oscillate without intermission between the 
wildest anarchy and the most oppressive despotism. 
Words will turn their heads, but their divinities of a 
day are soon their victims. In appearance they seem 
ardently to desire liberty; in reality they will have 
none of it, and they are incessantly appealing to the 
State to forge them chains. They yield blind obedi- 
ence to the obscurest sectaries, to the most narrow- 
minded despots. The rhetoricians who imagine they 
lead the masses, but who most often follow them, 
confound the impatience and nervousness that find 
vent in an incessant desire for a change of master 
with the true spirit of independence that girds against 
any master whatever. The State, whatever be the 
nominal regime, is the divinity towards which all 
parties turn. It is the State that is appealed to for 
regulations and protection, every day more oppres- 
sive, that surround the most trivial acts of existence 
with the most Byzantine and tyrannical formalities. 
The younger generations are more and more disposed 
to renounce careers demanding judgment, initiative, 
energy, personal efforts, and will. The slightest 
reponsibility alarms them. They are content with 


the mediocre prospects offered them by State-paid 
employment. The commercial classes ignore the 
colonies, which are solely peopled by functionaries. 1 
Energy and action have been replaced among states- 
men by terribly empty personal discussions, in the 
case of the masses by passing enthusiasms or hatreds, 
in the case of men of letters by a sort of tearful, 
vague, and unfruitful sentimentalism, and by colour- 
less dissertations on the miseries of existence. A 
boundless egoism is developing on all sides. The 
individual is coming to be solely preoccupied with 
himself. Consciences are capitulating, and morality 

1 In a speech pronounced in the Chamber 01 Deputies on November 
27, 1890, by M. Etienne, at the time Under Secretary for the Colonies, 
I note the following very characteristic passage, which I borrow from 
the newspaper Le Siecle : 

" Cochin China has 1,800,000 inhabitants ; of this number 1,600 are 
Frenchmen, 1,200 of whom are functionaries. The country is adminis- 
tered by a colonial council elected by these 1,200 functionaries. It has 
a Deputy. And you are surprised that anarchy reigns in the country ! 
(Exclamations and laughter on a great number of benches. ) 

"... Are you aware what is the outcome of such a system? Its 
outcome is this phenomenon, that nine millions out of a budget reduced 
to twenty-two millions is absorbed by the expenses in connection with 
the functionaries. 

"Yes, in 1877, I tried to reduce the number of functionaries. I 
reduced the expenses by 3,500,000 francs out of a total of nine 
millions. I took this measure in the month of October. In De- 
cember the Cabinet of which I was a member was overthrown, 
and in the following March the functionaries I had suppressed were 


is deteriorating and gradually dying out. 1 The 
individual is losing all empire over himself. He 
can no longer govern himself, and the man who 
cannot govern himself must inevitably come before 
long to be governed by others. 

1 This lowering of morality is serious when observed in professions 
such as the magistracy and the profession of notary, in which honesty 
used to be as general as courage among soldiers. As regards the 
notaries morality has at present descended to a very low level. The 
official statisticians affirm "that among notaries there is a proportion of 
43 accused persons out of 10,000 individuals, whereas the average for 
the whole population of France is one accused person for the same 
number of individuals." In a report addressed to the President of the 
Republic by the Minister of Justice and published in the Journal Officiel, 
January 31, 1890, I find the following passage : "The disasters which 
as early as 1840 had begun to inspire the public with uneasiness 
increased progressively to such a degree that in 1876 one of my 
predecessors had to call the special attention of the magistrates to the 
situation of the notaries. The dismissal of notaries and notarial 
catastrophes were occurring with unaccustomed frequency and under 
circumstances of great gravity. The number of disasters rose succes- 
sively from 31 in 1882 to 41 in 1883, to 54 in 1884, to 71 in 1886, and 
the total embezzlements committed by notaries amounted to 62,000,000 
francs for the period between 1880 and 1886. Finally, in 1889, 103 
notaries were dismissed or obliged to give up their practice." If we con- 
nect with these facts the successive ruin of our most important financial 
enterprises (the Comtoir d'Escompte, the Depots et Comptes Courants, 
Panama, etc.), it can only be admitted that the invectives of the 
Socialists against the morality of the leading classes are not without 
foundation. The same symptoms of demoralisation are unfortunately 
to be observed among all the Latin peoples. The scandal of the 
Italian State banks, in which robbery was practised on an immense 
scale by politicians of the foremost rank, the bankruptcy of Portugal, 
the wretched financial situation of Spain and Italy, the profound 
decadence of the Latin republics of America, prove that the character 
and morality of certain peoples have sustained incurable injury, and 
that their role in the world is nearly at an end. 


To change all this would be a hard task. It would 
be necessary to change first of all our lamentable 
Latin education. It is fatal to any initiative and 
energy that heredity may have spared. It extin- 
guishes every gleam of intellectual independence by 
giving young people as their sole ideal hateful 
examinations, which, as they only demand efforts of 
the memory, place in the front rank of our professions 
intelligences whose servile aptitude for imitation is the 
negation of all individuality and all personal efforts. 
" I try to pour iron into the soul of my pupils," said 
an English schoolmaster to Guizot, when he was 
visiting the schools of Great Britain. Where among 
the Latin nations are the schoolmasters or the pro- 
grammes capable of realising such an ambition ? 
The military regime will perhaps realise it. In any 
case it is the sole educator that is capable of realising 
it. One of the principal conditions of improvement 
for decadent peoples is the organisation of a very 
severe universal military service and the permanent 
menace of disastrous wars. 

It is to this general lowering of character, to the 
powerlessness of the citizens to govern themselves 
and to this egoistic indifference, that is more espe- 
cially due the difficulty experienced by the majority 


of the Latin peoples in living under liberal laws as 
far removed from despotism as from anarchy. It is 
easily understandable that such laws should be little 
to the liking of the masses, for Caesarism holds out to 
them the promise if not of liberty, on which they do 
not set much store, at any rate of a very considerable 
measure of equality in servitude. On the other hand, 
it would be incomprehensible that republican insti- 
tutions should encounter most opposition from the 
enlightened classes, but for the necessity of taking 
into account the weight of ancestral influences. Is it 
not with such institutions that all forms of superiority, 
and intellectual superiority in particular, have most 
chance of being able to display themselves ? It might 
even be said that the only real objection to such 
institutions, from the point of view of those who 
stand out for equality at any price, is the fact that 
they favour the formation of powerful intellectual 
aristocracies. The most oppressive of regimes, on 
the contrary, both for character and for the intelli- 
gence, is Caesarism in its various forms. All that 
can be said for it is that it facilitates equality in 
degradation and humility in servitude. It is well 
adapted to the inferior minds of decadent peoples, 
and that is why they always revert to it as soon as 


they are able. The plume of the first general that 
comes along will be made the excuse for its adoption. 
When a people has reached this pass its hour has 
struck, its destiny is accomplished. 

At the present hour this old-time Caesarism, which 
history has always seen appear at the earliest dawn 
of civilisations and at their extreme decadence, is 
undergoing a manifest evolution. To-day we are wit- 
nessing its resurrection under the name of Socialism. 
This new expression of State absolutism will as- 
suredly be the most grievous form of Caesarism, 
because, being impersonal, it will escape all the 
motives of fear that keep the worst tyrants under 

Socialism appears to-day to be the gravest of the 
dangers that threaten the European peoples. It will 
doubtless complete a decadence for which many 
causes are paving the way, and it will perhaps mark 
the end of Western civilisation. 

To appreciate its dangers and its strength, it is not 
the teachings it spreads abroad that must be con- 
sidered, but the devotion it inspires. Socialism will 
soon constitute the new faith of the suffering masses 
whose existence is often and inevitably rendered far 

from enviable by the economic conditions of con- 



temporary civilisation. It will be the new religion 
that will people the empty heavens. For all the 
human creatures who cannot support misery un- 
relieved by illusion this religion will replace the 
luminous paradise of which the painted windows of 
the churches spoke to them in the past. This great 
religious entity of to-morrow sees the crowd of its 
faithful increase every day. It will soon have its 
martyrs, and it will then become one of those 
religious creeds which stir up peoples, and whose 
power over souls is absolute. 

That the dogmas of Socialism lead to a regime 
of degrading slavery which will destroy all initiative 
and all independence in the souls bowed beneath its 
empire is doubtless evident, but only for psycholo- 
gists acquainted with the condition of man's existence. 
Such foresight is beyond the reach of the masses. 
They require arguments of a different order to per- 
suade them, and these arguments have never been 
furnished by reason. 

That the new dogmas we see coming into being 
are contrary to the most elementary good sense is 
also evident. But were not the religious dogmas that 
have guided men during so many centuries also 
contrary to good sense, and has the fact hindered 


them from subjecting the most luminous geniuses 
to their laws ? In the matter of his beliefs man only 
hearkens to the unconscious voice of his sentiments. 
They form an obscure domain" from which reason has 
always been excluded. 

In consequence and by the mere fact of the mental 
constitution created them by a long past, the peoples 
of Europe will be obliged to undergo the redoubtable 
phase of Socialism. It will be the signal for their 
entry on one of the last stages of decadence. By 
causing civilisation to revert to wholly inferior forms 
of evolution, it will facilitate the destructive invasions 
by which we are threatened. 

Outside Russia, whose population from the psycho- 
logical point of view is much more Asiatic than 
European, the English would seem to be almost 
the only race in Europe possessing sufficient energy, 
stable enough beliefs, and a sufficiently independent 
character to avoid succumbing to the new religion 
the birth of which we are witnessing. Modern 
Germany, in spite of deceptive appearances of 
prosperity, will doubtless be its first victim, judging 
from the success of the various sects that abound 
within its frontiers. The Socialism that will prove 
its ruin will doubtless be couched in strictly scientific 


formulae, of value at the best for an ideal society such 
as humanity will never produce, but this latest child of 
pure reason will be more intolerant and more redoubt- 
able than all its elders. No people is so well prepared 
as Germany to accept its yoke. No people of the 
present age has more entirely lost its initiative, its 
independence, and the habit of self-government. 1 

As to Russia, it has evolved too recently from the 
regime of the "mir," that is to say, from primitive 
Communism, the most perfect form of Socialism, to 
return to this inferior stage of evolution. It has other 
destinies. It is doubtless Russia that will one day 
furnish the irresistible flood of barbarians destined to 
destroy the old civilisations of the West, whose end 
will have been led up to by economic struggles and 

This hour, however, has not struck as yet. To 

1 The most eminent German writers are perfectly agreed on this 
point. In his recent book on the Social Question, Herr T. Ziegler, 
professor at the University of Strasbourg, expresses himself as follows : 

"While 'Self-help' is the dominant tendency in England, recourse 
to the State is the characteristic of Germany. We are a people that 
for centuries has been accustomed to be under a guardian. Moreover, 
during the last twenty years, the strong arm of Bismarck, by assuring 
us security, has caused us to lose the sentiment of responsibility and 
initiative. It is for this reason that in difficult and even in easy cases 
we appeal for the aid and protection of the State, and abandon ourselves 
to its initiative." 


reach it we have still to traverse certain phases. 
Socialism will be too oppressive a regime to last. It 
will make people regret the age of Tiberius and 
Caligula and will bring back that age. One some- 
times asks how the Romans of the time of the 
emperors so easily supported the wild ferocity of 
certain despots. The reason is that they too had 
traversed social struggles, civil wars, and proscriptions, 
and the experience had cost them their character. 
They had come to consider these tyrants as the 
ultimate instruments of their salvation. They put 
up with everything from them, because they did not 
know how to replace them. The truth is they cannot 
be replaced. After them came the final catastrophe 
brought about by the barbarians. History always 
turns in the same circle. 



\ ^ TE have already remarked, in the Introduction 
** to this work, that it was merely a short 
summary, a sort of synthesis of the volumes we have 
devoted to the history of civilisations. Each of the 
chapters composing it should be regarded as the con- 
clusion arrived at by anterior investigations. It is 
very difficult in consequence to still further condense 
ideas so condensed already. I shall attempt, how- 
ever, for the benefit of readers whose time is precious, 
to present in the guise of very brief propositions the 
fundamental principles which represent the philosophy 
of this work. 

A race possesses psychological characteristics 
almost as fixed as its physical characteristics. Like 

the anatomic species, the psychological species is 



only transformed as the result of the accumulations 
of ages. 

To the fixed and hereditary psychological 
characteristics, whose association forms the mental 
constitution of a race, are adjoined, as in the case 
of all anatomic species, accessory elements created 
by diverse modifications of the environment. Being 
incessantly renewed they endow a race with a certain 
measure of apparent variability. 

The mental constitution of a race represents not 
only the synthesis of the living beings which compose 
it, but more particularly that of all the ancestors who 
have contributed to its formation. It is not the 
living but the dead who play the preponderating role 
in the existence of a people. They are the creators 
of its morality and the unconscious sources of its 

The very great anatomic differences which dis- 
tinguish the various human races are accompanied by 
not less considerable psychological differences. When 
only the average representatives of each race are com- 
pared, the mental differences often appear somewhat 
slight. They become immense as soon as the com- 
parison is instituted between the most elevated 
elements of each race. It is then found that what 


more especially differentiates superior from inferior 
races is the fact that the former possess a certain 
number of highly developed minds, whereas the latter 
possess no such minds. 

The individuals of which inferior races are com- 
posed display a manifest equality between one 
another. In proportion as races rise in the scale 
of civilisation, their members tend to become more 
and more differentiated. The inevitable effect of 
civilisation is to differentiate individuals and races. 
In consequence peoples are not progressing towards 
equality but towards a growing inequality. 

The life of a people and all the manifestations 
of its civilisation are merely the reflection of its soul, 
the visible signs of something invisible but very 
real. Exterior events are only the apparent surface 
of the hidden framework by which they are deter- 

It is neither chance nor exterior circumstances, 
and still less political institutions, that play the 
fundamental role in the history of a people. It is 
more especially the character of a people that 
fashions its destiny. 

The various elements of the civilisation of a 
people being only the outward signs of its mental 


constitution, the expression of certain modes of 
feeling and thinking peculiar to a people, these 
elements cannot be transmitted unchanged to peoples 
of a different mental constitution : all that can be 
transmitted is the exterior, superficial, and unimpor- 
tant forms. 

The profound differences existing between the 
mental constitutions of the various peoples result in 
these peoples viewing the world in very dissimilar 
lights. The consequence is that they feel, reason 
and act in very different ways, and they therefore 
find, when they come in contact, that they are in 
disagreement on all questions. Most of the wars that 
take up so large a portion of history are the outcome 
of these dissentiments. Wars of conquest, wars of 
religion, wars of dynasties, have always in reality 
been wars of races. 

An agglomeration of men of different origin do 
not form a race, do not possess, that is, a collective 
soul, until, as the result of interbreeding continued 
during centuries, and of a similar existence under 
identical conditions, the agglomeration has acquired 
common sentiments, common interests, and common 

Among civilised peoples there are scarcely any 


natural races, but only artificial races created by 
historical conditions. 

Changes of environment only influence pro- 
foundly new races, that is, mixtures of old races 
whose ancestral characteristics have become dis- 
sociated by cross breeding. Heredity is the only 
force powerful enough to struggle against heredity. 
Changes of environment have only a destructive 
action on races the fixity of whose characteristics has 
not been affected by cross breeding. An ancient 
race perishes rather than undergo the transformations 
requisite to enable it to adapt itself to a new 

The acquisition of a solidly constituted collective 
soul marks the apogee of the greatness of a people. 
The dissociation of this soul always marks the hour 
of its decadence. The intervention of foreign ele- 
ments constitutes one of the surest means of this 
dissociation being compassed. 

Like anatomic species, psychological species are 
subject to the action of time. They too are fated to 
grow old and die out. Always very slow in being 
ormed, it is possible for them on the contrary to dis- 
appear rapidly. It suffices to trouble profoundly the 
functioning of their organs to cause them to under- 


go retrograde transformations whose consequence is 
often their prompt destruction. Peoples are centuries 
long in acquiring a certain mental constitution, which 
they sometimes lose in a very short space of time. 
The ascending path which leads them to a high level 
of civilisation is always very long, while the decline 
which leads them to decadence is most often very 

Together with character, ideas should be ac- 
counted one of the principal factors in the evolution 
of a civilisation. They do not exert an influence 
until, after a very slow evolution, they have been 
transformed into sentiments and have come in con- 
sequence to form part of the character. They are 
then unaffected by argument, and take a very long 
time to disappear. Each civilisation is the outcome 
of a small number of universally accepted funda- 
mental ideas. 

Religious ideas are among the most important 
of the guiding ideas of a civilisation. The majority 
of historical events have been due indirectly to the 
variation of religious beliefs. The history of humanity 
has always run parallel to that of its gods. Such is 
the power of these children of our dreams that even 
this name cannot be changed without the whole 



world being thrown at once into confusion. The 
birth of new gods has always marked the dawn of 
a new civilisation, and their disappearance has 
always marked its decline. 






This book is due on (fit fan i <1||| ihiit^i il below, or 

on the date to which renewed. 
Renewed books are subject to immediate recall. 

DEC 24 1971 

DEC 3 REC'D -i PI 

APR 4 1974 


JUL 29 W 

AUG 6 1987 

LD 21A-15m-l,'71 
(P2357slO)476 A-32 

General Library 

University of California 


re 45